2018-03-29 / Sports

Bushen: Hats off to Ruelas, Lakers

A column by Jay Bushen
Sports Editor


GLEN LAKE players react to a Cade Peterson block in the third quarter. GLEN LAKE players react to a Cade Peterson block in the third quarter. What a time to be a basketball fan.

On Saturday, Michigan advanced to the Final Four for the first time since 2013, Ferris State won the Division II national championship for the first time in program history and, of course, a Leelanau County team played in a state championship for the first time since the days of Dwaun Anderson in 2010.

That said, I was basketballed out.

The unexpected run to the Class C title game had been somewhat a blur for yours truly—my March Madness tally was over 1,000 miles and my Jeep and I were running on fumes. The only thing keeping me awake on the drive home was the thought of cold beer and buffalo wings once I made it there.

Fortunately, the much-needed sustenance reenergized my basketball enthusiasm in time for the Michigan game. I had filled out my NCAA Tournament bracket in record time earlier this month while getting dressed for a Glen Lake game, and the rush job was apparently a dandy. I recommend that strategy, by the way. With no time to overthink, I had Michigan (and Villanova and Kansas) in my Final Four.

I was back in the game. About nine wings in, however, I realized I was hardly watching the game.

I kept looking at photos I took at the Glen Lake game and another TV at the bar playing a rerun of the Class B final between Benton Harbor and Grand Rapids Catholic Central, and I was pretty surprised to look up and see Glen Lake star Cade Peterson on one of the network’s state-championship promos.

About two wings later, it started to hit me: This Glen Lake run was pretty special—one I surely won’t forget.

I recapped every Glen Lake game in the regular season and chatted with coach Rich Ruelas on a weekly basis but, to be completely honest, I didn’t see this coming. From what I gathered all season from local coaches and fans, the narrative had more to do with whether Glen Lake could win a conference championship and get past Manton in the district opener. In all fairness, the Lakers had lost five games last season and two more this winter.

Yet they nearly won it all.

Among the many thoughts bouncing around my brain in trips to and from the Breslin Center was this: Ruelas deserves a tip of the cap.

This guy gets it. Here’s a guy who’s extremely in tune with the energy of his team and knows how to press the right buttons at the right times. I can tell he keeps it simple—stressing defensive fundamentals, offensive patience and the “we not me” mentality—but really understands the game. This was a well-coached team with a high basketball IQ, and a lot of that starts with Ruelas.

His team flat out impressed me throughout the Class C tournament. The Lakers played with heart, togetherness, purpose, confidence and just the right amount of tenacity.

Every starter played their role brilliantly. Point guard Peyton McDonough was responsible with the basketball and patient in running the offense. Nick Apsey, who missed the first five games of the season, was a downright dominant defender. Reece Hazelton was deadly from 3-point range. Xander Okerlund’s consistent production on the offensive end exceeded the lofty expectations I had after voting for him as the peninsula’s top player in 2017. What impressed me most about Peterson was his leadership and relentless will to win—Grand Valley State football coach Matt Mitchell is going to love having this guy on the gridiron.

Would Glen Lake have beaten Detroit Edison on Saturday if Peterson didn’t sprain his ankle in third quarter?

Maybe.

Edison was the real deal, but so was Glen Lake with all five starters on the floor. I didn’t leave Lansing uttering any “what ifs,” but I also didn’t see the need to. My thought was this: Those boys made Leelanau County proud.

The Lakers played the game how it ought to be played in the postseason and were rewarded with memories that will last a lifetime. The same can be said for parents and longtime supporters of the program who traveled countless miles to watch this story unfold with me. It’s been a blast.

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