Hot-shooting Hart begins district action with perfect 22-0 record

March 7, 2023

— Photo courtesy of Chrissy Klotz

Hot-shooting Hart begins district action with perfect 22-0 record

Pirate News is a presentation of Hart Public Schools in partnership with Oceana County Press.

By Allison Scarbrough, Editor

HART — The Hart Pirates are one of only three boys varsity basketball teams in the state to finish the 2022-23 regular season with an undefeated record.

They are the hottest hoops team Hart has ever had, boasting the best record in school history.

“Our goal is to always play our best,” said Coach Nick Bronsema, who just began coaching the Pirates this season. “It’s nice to play with each other, but playing for each other means more. These guys are actually playing for each other.

“I inherited a lot of great kids,” said Bronsema whose 12-member squad includes seven seniors. “The coaching staff from before did an excellent job,” he said of his predecessor Adam Jerry. Hollis Rockwell, who previously coached the Pirates, has stepped in to volunteer with the team. “He’s so selfless and helpful.”

Bronsema, who is a teacher at Mona Shores, also credits the players’ families and the tight-knit community for the team’s success, along with Athletic Director Tim Hertzler, the teachers and staff. 

“We have a strong group of seniors who put a lot of work in over the years,” said Hertzler. “It’s fun to see them having those results. The coaches put in a lot of work, and the previous coaches worked a lot with the kids.”

The school’s recent athletic success is a welcome reward after many previous years of losing records. Now, Hart is a force to be reckoned with in all sports. Just during the winter season alone, the girls basketball team won district finals and advances to regionals; the wrestling team competed at the state level for the fourth straight year; and the competitive cheer team took fourth place at state.

“I saw it go from they would lose before they start; to where they started to believe they could win; and now we’re at the point where they understand what it takes to win,” said the AD. The success of the Pirates’ cross country and wrestling teams have inspired the other sports teams, he said.

“Every player has a huge part in our success,” said the coach. A key man is 6’6” senior Parker Hovey who closely averages a triple double. The standout averages 25 points, 12 rebounds, nine assists and five blocks per game. Hovey plans to play at the college level. “He’s going to make his decision in the next week or so.”

Senior Tony Rayo broke his foot early in the season against archrival Shelby and continued playing the entire game despite the injury, said the coach. “He didn’t tell anyone.” That put Rayo out for most of the season, but now he’s back for district action, which begins Wednesday, March 8, in Big Rapids. The Pirates take on the hosts who defeated Ludington 62-61, improving their record to 20-2.

This is Hart’s first year playing in the more competitive Division 2, said Hertzler. “And we have the most difficult district in the whole state. We have four of the top 12 teams in the state in our division. We’re the number 1 seed, so our boys can do it.”

Blake Weirich, a 6’5” junior, is the team’s second-leading scorer. “He and Parker have a really good connection on the floor. He moves around really well; Parker finds him; and Blake knows how to put the ball in the hole.” Weirich averages a double double with 16 points and 10 rebounds per game. 

Everyone on the squad plays a valuable role: senior Diego Escamilla, a hot shooter and defender; senior Wyatt Dean, key at defense; senior Easton VanderZwaag with his speed; junior Jess Jacobs with his aggressiveness; junior Chase Gale’s athleticism; senior Caleb Bitely, a hot shooter; and senior Kyan Clark, with his hustle effort and rebounding skills.

The Pirates have two freshmen 6’4” Caleb Ackley and 6’1” Miguel Escamilla — Diego’s brother. “We knew when we brought those two freshmen up the type of kids they are and that they’re going to really improve.”

“Everybody on our team plays really hard,” said Bitely. “We all care about the game, so we all put time in over the summer and off days. We also have a really great coach who coaches us to our potential.”

“We stay focused, and we really work hard,” said Hovey. “We share the ball really well as a team, and everyone touches the ball, so that helps a lot. We rely on each other as teammates to get it done — we don’t try to do it ourselves, so that makes a big difference. It’s a lot of fun.”

VanderZwaag, who ran on Hart’s state champion cross country team in the fall, is now playing for the Pirates’ record-breaking basketball team. “It’s fun to have this success both seasons. We’re all like a family — we all like each other. We’ve known each other since like third grade.”

“We’ve taught each other to think big, and we’re never going to think small,” said Bronsema. “Our motto is: Effort, Attitude and Team.

“It’s been a wonderful ride so far.”

Hart Boys Basketball Team 2022-23 schedule

12/6 Kelloggsville 68-30

12/9 Shelby 63-46

12/12 Oakridge 80-63

12/15 Big Rapids 92-84

12/20 Ravenna 62-51

12/21 Mesick 80-46

1/4 West MI Aviation Academy 64-59

1/6 N. Muskegon 61-44

1/12 Mason County Central 71-50

1/17 Hesperia 85-31

1/20 Holton 65-20

1/24 Muskegon Catholic Central 76-40

1/26 Manistee 78-48

1/31 White Cloud 62-45

2/3 Shelby 63-38

2/7 West MI Christian 67-48

2/14 Ravenna 73-31

2/17 N. Muskegon 67-51

2/23 Mason County Central 63-45

2/25 Newaygo 65-46

2/28 Hesperia 52-19

3/2 Holton 68-16

Hart Boys Basketball Team 2022-23 roster

1 Diego Escamilla senior guard 5’10”

3 Wyatt Dean senior guard 5’11”

5 Easton VanderZwaag senior guard 5’8”

11 Tony Rayo senior guard 6’

15 Jesse Jacobs junior guard 6’2”

21 Chase Gale junior guard 6’

22 Caleb Bitely senior guard 5’11”

23 Blake Weirch junior guard 6’5”

24 Parker Hovey senior guard 6’6”

25 Caleb Ackley freshman forward 6’4”

31 Miguel Escamilla freshman guard 6’1”

35 Kyan Clark senior forward 6’2”

Head coach: Nick Bronsema

Assistant coaches: Russ Doane, Joe Tanis, Alex Lynn and Eli Luce

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