BY DENNIS CHASE
TRAVERSE CITY — Alex Eidson did what big-time players do in big moments.
He made a play that helped change the game.
The Grand Haven guard drove the length of the court after a missed free throw, scored on a contested lay-up, drew a foul and converted, to propel the Bucs to a 57-51 Class A regional basketball win Monday over Petoskey at Traverse City Central.
The three-point play snapped a tie with 2:37 remaining.
"I saw a lane," Eidson said. "They didn't see I was going. I tried to get to the rim. I got a little contact. It was a weak call, but we'll take it."
Eidson finished with 15 points as Grand Haven advanced to the regional final — one that will likely be moved to Thursday night after the Rockford-Hudsonville game was postponed to tonight due to the weather.
"He's pretty determined," Grand Haven coach Steve Hewitt said of Eidson. "Maybe not the shot I would have picked at that point, but it was a big shot wasn't it? He has to do some of that for us to be successful."
Eidson sank three free throws with 2.1 seconds left Friday night to lead the 14-10 Bucs to a 47-45 district championship win over Muskegon.
Petoskey, which finished 22-2, played a strong first half in taking a 33-27 lead into the break. But the Bucs clamped down defensively, limiting the Northmen to 18 second-half points.
"We had a very slow start," Eidson said. "We knew we had to play harder on defense. We were giving them too many open 3s. We had to cut off the penetration — No. 5 (Sam Baumgartner) kept getting in the lane too much."
Petoskey hit four 3-pointers in the first quarter en route to a 20-10 lead.
"First of all, our effort was a lot better (in the second half)," Hewitt said. "I think that was noticeable. We defended the screens a little bit differently just to try to keep No. 5 out of the paint. We switched, too. The effort was the big thing, though. I didn't feel like we were playing as hard as we could. We had to take it to another level against these guys because they're so good."
Petoskey coach Dennis Starkey said the first couple minutes of the third quarter were pivotal, particularly two putback baskets by Grand Haven's Ty VanWieren.
"Obviously, that was a big momentum shift," he said.
The Bucs took a 42-38 lead into the fourth quarter. Petoskey kept it close. Two Baumgartner free throws made it 46-45 with 3:14 to go. Robbins knotted it at 46 when he hit the first of his two free throws with 2:43 showing. But Eidson took the missed second shot and converted the three-point play to give the Bucs the lead for good.
"It's awesome," Eidson said. "These are the games we play for. The close ones are the fun ones."
Baumgartner and Robbins led Petoskey with 15 points apiece. Zac Lewis added 11. Lewis netted eight of his points in the first quarter.
"I thought our guys played well," Starkey said. "Grand Haven is a good team. I thought our guys left it on the floor."
The loss ended a terrific season for the Northmen, who won another Big North Conference title.
"This team has relied on runs, on streaks all season long and we couldn't get one in the second half," he said. "But I'm real proud of these guys. They played like a team all season."
That teamwork was not lost on Hewitt, a 1981 Petoskey graduate.
"In watching them on tape, I have so much respect for what they do and the way they play," he said. "They play the right way. We knew we had to have a really good effort. That's all we talked about. We just wanted to give ourselves a chance. We wanted to be there in the fourth quarter. We thought that might put a little pressure on them."
Although Hewitt did not dwell on his connection to Petoskey, his players knew the importance of Monday's game.
"It was a big game for us, a big game for coach," Eidson said. "He didn't say, 'I really want to get this one.' I know he did. I know he's know their staff very well. I know he has a lot of family in the area. This was a big game for him. He's a very introverted person. He wouldn't go out of his way to say that. But I know it was big for him. I know he's excited about it."
He was, although it was tempered.
"It's mixed," Hewitt said of his emotions. "I wouldn't have guessed that. I've been away for so long. I have so much respect for Dennis. He's a guy who I feel is a mentor to me in a lot of ways. Obviously, I'm thrilled for our team and our kids, but I love Petoskey, too."