EAST LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — Going into this girls basketball season, neither contender in the Division II state final was a preseason favorite to outsiders.
From the West Michigan area, most people were picking Grand Rapids West Catholic, which was a powerhouse in 2019-20 and this year undefeated heading into the regional final. Then the Falcons met Newaygo, which beat them after star players Abbey Kimball and Candiece Dykstra were sidelined.
Outside of the Falcons, many would have picked Detroit Edison raising the mitten trophy because it has proven to be a winning program. While Detroit Edison withdrew from the tournament due to COVID-19 reasons, Portland (20-2) just kept winning games.
Then there the Raiders were, playing on the final day of the 2020-21 season with a banner to raise.
Portland defeated Newaygo 52-32 at the Breslin Center in East Lansing Friday to earn a state title for the first time in school history.
“There are no egos on this team and they all like each other,” Portland head coach Jason Haid said. “Sometimes you get good players that just care about themselves shooting the ball; this team does not care. Everyone is willing to do what is best for this team.”
That proved to be true Friday after all five starters for the Newaygo Lions scored points.
With the game close, the Raiders were able to put together a 8-1 run to close out the opening half and own a 20-12 lead. Ashley Bower led Portland with eight points.
To open the second half, the Lions demonstrated their fight. A quick spurt of three straight triples led to a 9-0 run at the 3:47 mark and forced Haid to call a timeout.
Runs were nothing new to this Raiders team, however.
“This whole tournament, teams have made runs on us consistently,” said Portland guard Ava Gruber. “It’s been consistent, but we were able to hold our composure again and everyone has confidence in each other to hold off the runs and we did again.”
A quick spurt of buckets over the final seven minutes led to a 7-0 run and a 42-25 lead heading into the final quarter.
The Raiders would never have to look back.
“We are a very special team because we have been playing together for a very long time,” Bower said. “It built us a chemistry that had made us much better and helped us win now.”
Even without the storybook finish, it was still a successful season for Newaygo. The Lions, who had not won a regional title since 1985, advanced all the way to the state final. The long run brought the program back to life.
“I am glad that we did it with this team and the community was there to support it,” said Jaxi Long of Newaygo. “It shows little girls they should work out and start playing when they are young and they can build a team like this.”