EAST LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — When the fourth quarter began, Hudsonville could smell the program’s first ever state championship.
With a 14-point lead and playing some of its best basketball all season in the third quarter of the Division I state title game, eight minutes seemed like enough to hold that lead.
Not to opponent Detroit Renaissance — not when everything was on the line.
With just three minutes to go, the Eagles watched their lead dwindle to just two points, 54-52, after a 12-0 run by the Phoenix. Renaissance pressed, continuing to switch and using its length to throw different looks at the Eagles — and it was working.
Hudsonville head coach Casey Glass went back to the player he has looked to all season in pressure situations to have the ball and get to the free-throw line. Her name is junior guard Aliana Diaz, who went 6-of-6 from the line down the stretch to help secure the 65-61 victory over Renaissance at the Breslin Center in East Lansing for a state title.
“It’s not the first time she’s had the ball in her hand in a pressure situation,” Glass said. “At one point, I talked to her and said ‘We’re going to get the ball to you, Aliana.’ We knew if she had the chance at the line, she’d come through.”
While the fourth quarter was Diaz’s moment to shine, the 14-point lead built after a one-point lead at halftime came from fellow junior guard Jaci Tubergen. The sharp shooter connected on key three triples and a plus-one bucket on her way to 16 consecutive points in the third quarter alone, giving her a game-high 28.
When Tubergen kept making shot after shot, Diaz knew to keep giving her the chance to score.
“She just got hot,” Diaz said with a smile. “I just kept thinking, ‘Get it to Jaci.’ We have faith in her and I just kept trying to drive and kick it to her. It worked out well.”
While the run in the fourth quarter was the largest the Phoenix threw at them, the Eagles were tested out of the gates.
A quick 11-2 run from the opening tip put Hudsonville in an early hole. Glass continued to tell his team throughout the first half they didn’t have to get all the points back at once, but rather chip away.
After getting the game close again, Renaissance was able to build a 29-21 lead nearing halftime. Glass called a timeout.
The Eagles responded with a Diaz and-one bucket and a Tubergen triple, plus an Ashlynne Bailey layup to help build a 30-29 lead. That stood to be a big difference in a final margin of just four points.
“In all of the films we watched, (Renaissance) has started out hot so we knew it was coming,” Glass said. “If we could withstand that storm, we would have a chance. We just chipped away, ended up taking the lead by one and we did enough to survive and win.”
The entire game, the Phoenix also had success forcing turnovers by using its length with a press. Sometimes the Eagles were able to beat that with long passes and transition points. The team worked to stay ahead of Renaissance’s 2-3 zone.
Tubergen said she and her teammates continued to trust themselves even through the fourth quarter turnovers.
“We did a good job of breaking the press they were using from the first quarter,” Tubergen said. “We just trust everyone on this team and we were able to close it out when we needed to.”
In a game and season full of ups and downs and obstacles, it only made sense that the roller coaster would continue in this game for Hudsonville.
“At the end of the day, I get to look at it all and believe I am the luckiest coach in the state of Michigan, and I truly believe that,” Glass said. “I got to spend more time with my team this year being in the state of Michigan in Class A. When you coach, you look back and think about what impact you made on the players. Our team has always been about family, and we have pushed each other like family, like siblings, and today showed that.
“We had enough in the tank tonight at that’s why we are up here with this trophy.”
Not just any trophy — the only trophy that will have a spot in the Eagles’ case for girls Division I basketball.