Otsego’s Jaxsen Callaway (3) goes up for a shot as Hopkins’ Drew Weber (21) and Tristen Perry (42) both attempt to block it. (Photo by Jason Wesseldyk)Hopkins’ Tyler Zomerlei (left) looks for an open teammate as Otsego’s Trae Knight provides defensive pressure. Zomerlei led the Vikings with 17 points in the loss. (Photo by Jason Wesseldyk)

Otsego pulls away from Hopkins in district semis

By: 
Jason Wesseldyk

A pair of conference champions squared off in a Division 2 boys’ basketball district semifinal at Hastings High School on Wednesday, March 11.
And when it the final buzzer sounded, it was the Wolverine Conference champ that had earned the victory over the OK Silver champ.
Using its customary strong second half, Otsego turned what had been a close game at halftime into a 66-49 win over Hopkins as the Bulldogs improved to 21-1.
 “We knew Hopkins was a good team,” Otsego coach Matt Dennis said. “They won their conference championship for a reason. They have really good players with (Tyler Zomerlei) and the (Weber) brothers (Drew and Colin). They have good size and their big guys can run the floor.
“We just had to stick to our plan and do what we do well. We really emphasized the importance of rebounding and getting after the 50/50 balls. Those are things Hopkins does really well, so we wanted to focus on them and I thought we did a nice job.”
The Vikings ended the season at 14-7, including a 10-2 mark in the OK Silver.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better group of guys this year,” said Vikings coach Jake Jewett, who spent several seasons as an assistant coach in Otsego before coming to Hopkins. “They bought in and worked incredibly hard and well together, while having great attitudes. It made my job a lot of fun.”
Charlie Woodhams led Otsego in scoring and rebounding with 25 points and 11 rebounds to go with four blocks. Owen Watson added eight rebounds along with eight points and four assists.
The Bulldogs jumped out to a 13-7 lead at the end of the opening quarter behind eight points from Woodhams. Three-pointers from Trevor Smith and Zomerlei helped Hopkins match Otsego point for point in the second quarter as the Bulldogs settled for a 27-21 halftime lead.
But Otsego used a 39-28 edge in the second half to pull away.
The fact that his team excelled after halftime came as no surprise to Dennis.
“Throughout this season—and going back the two seasons before this, really—the third quarter has tended to be our best quarter,” he said. “We just tend to come out really strong after halftime and that helps us wear down teams in the fourth quarter.”
Dennis has a theory as to why the Bulldogs play so well in the second half.
“I think a lot of coaches use halftime to make adjustments and try to counteract what the opponent is doing,” he said. “We don’t typically make a lot of adjustments. We just talk to the kids about staying true to what we do best and sticking with it. So, I think that works in our favor.”
No player better epitomized the strong second half against Hopkins than point guard Ashton Atwater.
After being held scoreless in the first half, Atwater went for 12 second-half points, scoring five in the third quarter and seven more in the final frame.
“Ashton is a special player,” Dennis said. “He’s so quick and can make so many things happen. He just needs a glimpse of light to make a play. He can get to the basket or find an open teammate. He likes to score, and I’m okay with that as long as he’s taking good shots. And I think he’s been doing a great job with his decision making.”
Atwater also tallied a team-best eight assists.
Otsego opened the third quarter on a 12-3 run that started with a 3-point play from Woodhams and included a rare 4-point play from Jakson Dentler, upping their lead to 40-24.
Hopkins narrowed the gap to single digits on three occasions in the third frame—the final time at 45-36 on a 3-point play from Zomerlei—but the Bulldogs had an answer each time.
“We did a nice job of responded to the runs they made,” Dennis said. “Like I said, they’re a good team and you know those runs are coming. You just have to weather them.”
The Vikings made it a 53-43 game on a triple from Nathan Tew with 5:04 left to play only to see Otsego respond with an 11-0 run that started with a steal-turned-triple from Atwater.
Zomerlei and Colin Weber led Hopkins in scoring with 17 and 15 respective points. Drew Weber finished with eight points, followed by four each from Tew and Tristen Perry and three from Smith.
“Overall, this was a great season for us,” Jewett said. “We finished first in the OK Silver for the first time since 1997. In year three for me, I’m continuing to try to change the culture in Hopkins and get guys to believe and execute our system. Traditionally, Hopkins has been known as a football school, but we’ve proven we can have success on the hardwood as well.
“Colin Weber and Trevor Smith will return next year as seniors to lead us to hopefully another successful season.”
Jaxson Callaway (seven points), Dentler (six points), Peyton Vanderhoff (five points) and Trae Knight (three points) also scored for Otsego.
The Bulldogs were scheduled to play Grand Rapids South Christian in a district title game on Friday, March 13, but that game—along with all other MHSAA activity—has been postponed due to the coronavirus.
 

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