Heroes Rise to Earn P-W's Legendary Win

March 23, 2019

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

GRAND RAPIDS – The seconds couldn’t tick off the clock fast enough Saturday for a Pewamo-Westphalia girls basketball team on the verge of its first championship for the third season in a row.

Side by side on the bench, each with four fouls, sat juniors Ellie Droste and Hannah Spitzley – who together scored more than half of the Pirates’ points this winter.

On the floor, senior Rachel Huhn faced the start of the fourth quarter charged with holding things together as the only other player with significant experience from P-W’s last two tournament runs.     

“Seeing those two in foul trouble, I knew especially being a senior leader, I knew my focus was just to keep everyone positive, keep everyone together,” Huhn said. “Just keep us in one unit, and stay calm.”

She also knew she was now the team’s top offensive option – but surely she didn’t anticipate knocking down the most important shot in her program’s history.

Huhn’s fourth-quarter 3-pointer with 5:31 to play was P-W’s only field only over the final 11 minutes and 13 seconds Saturday, and only points during a 9 minute, 28-second stretch that saw the Pirates lead over Flint Hamady go from 11 to one with 1:45 to play. It also ended the reason the Pirates never lost the lead as they clinched the Division 3 championship with a 40-33 victory at Van Noord Arena.

Huhn also connected on all four of her free-throw attempts over the final 32 seconds as P-W completed a run that began with a trip to the Class C Final two years ago, followed by an appearance in the Semifinals last season.

“It just feels amazing to go out this way, because everyone on this team – all 16 girls – have worked so hard for this,” Huhn said, “In the offseason we’ve done so much improving our own skills, and I just feel like we work so well together. To come close sophomore and junior year and put the cherry on top my senior year, it’s just a great feeling.”

This P-W team was the 11th to reach the season’s final week, and followed Class C runners-up also in 1983 and 1984. The Pirates finished 27-1, their only defeat to Division 2 power Detroit Edison, which had beaten P-W in the last two playoff trips.

The Pirates led all but 56 seconds Saturday. But after pushing the lead to double digits during both the second and third quarters, it took just about everything the Pirates could offer to withstand a Hamady team with a significant size advantage and a defensive press that played a big part in P-W’s 22 turnovers – with half coming during the Hawks’ 13-3 second-half run to draw within one.

“We knew they had some speed, but we didn’t quite know how quick they were,” Hamady coach Keith Smith said. “Now that I look back at it, I probably should have brought the pressure a little earlier. But we did respect (Droste’s) play … but I think we got her a little rattled. And we were also trying to get her out of there when she got four fouls.”

As significant as navigating the pressure, the Pirates outrebounded Hamady 32-19 despite having only one player 6-foot and one more taller than 5-8. They did so with that 6-footer, Spitzley, playing 19 seconds over the last 8:49 before fouling out and six players grabbing between 4-7 rebounds apiece.

P-W had practiced playing with Spitzley or Droste fouled out – but Pirates coach Steve Eklund never anticipated that scenario becoming real-life in this game.

His players couldn’t have responded better.

Huhn’s 3-pointer was followed by Spitzley’s re-entry and then departure, and then Droste came back into the game at 3:43 to play. The teams took turns missing shots before junior guard Xeryia Tartt’s free throw pulled Hamady to within 32-31 with 1:45 to play.

The Hawks (21-6) grabbed the rebound off Tartt’s miss on the second free-throw attempt, but Droste stole the ball and was fouled trying to finish a break. She made a free throw to push the lead to two, and the Pirates followed with another stop when junior guard Emily Nurenberg ended up with the ball after Hamady lost its dribble attempting to tie the score. Droste ended up with possession, was fouled, and this time made both free throws to make the lead 35-31 with 42.5 seconds to play. The Pirates then limited the Hawks to one missed shot on three straight possessions, with Huhn twice grabbing rebounds during that shutdown stretch. They also made 8 of 10 free throws over the final 1:14.

“It wasn’t pretty, but we out-pointed them. We took care of the basketball at times, we made our free throws, and defensively we got stops,” Eklund said. “With 40 seconds left we were happy. We had the lead, we were at the free throw line, and I said, ‘Girls, I think we need three or four more stops.’ And I think we got three stops in the last 40 seconds.

“We drill every day, get a stop and score. Today was get a stop and free throws.”

Droste finished with 18 points, including 12 on free throws. Huhn had 10 points and six rebounds, and Spitzley had eight points. Junior guard Kiera Thelen scored two points but led the rebounding effort with seven.

“I just knew my teammates, the entire time, they had my back,” Droste said. “Me and Hannah both got into foul trouble, which really, it’s hard because you’re so used to being out there in tight situations. But we have such confidence in our teammates – we trust them so much that we know no matter what we can come out with the win.”

Tartt had 15 points and five of her team’s 14 steals to lead Hamady, which was playing in its first Final since finishing Class C runner-up in 2015.

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Pewamo-Westphalia players, including senior Rachel Huhn (far right), celebrate the team’s first MHSAA Finals title Saturday at Van Noord Arena. (Middle) The Pirates’ Ellie Droste tries to keep possession while a pair of Hamady players apply the pressure.

Little Provides Major Stride as 1st Woman to Officiate Boys Hoops Final since 1995

By Keith Dunlap
Special for MHSAA.com

April 13, 2023

Delonda Little was already a trailblazer to many before this year’s MHSAA Boys Basketball Finals.

Greater DetroitBut what happened last month at Breslin Center made her even more of one on a statewide level.

A referee and assigner for 20 years in the Detroit area, Little is a female boys and girls basketball official who mentors both male and female referees – no matter the gender or level, as she officiates high school and college games.

Officials often go to Little for guidance, direction and assignments, which has made her respected for years throughout Metro Detroit in the prep basketball community. Then, her status as a trailblazer grew even more.

Little was assigned as an official for the Division 3 Boys Basketball Final between Flint Beecher and Traverse City St. Francis, and she became the first female referee to officiate an MHSAA Boys Basketball Final since Traverse City’s Barb Beckett 1995.

“It was a very good feeling to know I was the one selected,” said Little, who officiated the Final with Matt Olson and Zach Porritt.  

In fact, while attending a Semifinal game the Friday before the Final, Little received a phone call from an area code she didn’t recognize.

She answered, and it was Beckett.

“At first I didn’t know the name,” Little said. “I said, ‘No, I don’t know you, but that’s fine.’”

Beckett then explained she was the first female referee to be assigned a Boys Basketball Final, and just wanted to offer support to Little.

At that point, Little became excited and thankful she answered the call.

“It was very nice to hear from her because she wanted to reach out and if not pass the torch, to congratulate me,” Little said.

Little, 51, said she found out she was going to be refereeing the Division 3 boys championship game just before the start of the postseason when she received an email from the MHSAA.

“I’m looking at the email and I’m like, boys?” Little said. “I was shocked.”

But she was shocked in a good way, and obviously excited for the honor.

Little monitors the action between Flint Beecher and Traverse City St. Francis.Little didn’t find out until a couple of days before the St. Francis/Beecher contest that she would be officiating that specific championship game, but the Monday of boys championship week was when she really started to receive congratulations from friends and colleagues.

That’s when an article came out in the Detroit News detailing her selection, which led to countless calls, texts and congratulatory messages on social media.

“I couldn’t even (keep up with the comments),” she said. “That’s how overwhelming the actual tags were. It came from all across the state with officials, men and women, because I do women’s college (games). Some of the college ladies were reaching out. I was getting all the hoopla before the game.”

Little said she normally doesn’t get nervous for games, but not having some nerves became a bit harder once so many people knew of her achievement.

However, she settled into a normal routine quickly once the game started.

“I wanted to get it done, get it over with and do well,” she said.

Little did do well, which is no surprise to everyone who knew her before she officiated on the boys championship stage.

It was just another feather in the cap for Little, who in 2016 became the first woman to officiate a boys Detroit Public School League championship game.

“Delonda is one of the top officials in the Detroit area, and our staff doesn’t look at Delonda as a female working a boys game – we see one of the top officials in Detroit working a basketball game,” MHSAA Executive Director Mark Uyl said. “There are females officiating in the NBA and female officials in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. The aspect that made Delonda’s selection for this MHSAA championship game nearly unique will soon be the norm at all levels of athletics.”     

Little graduated from Detroit Osborn in 1989 and starred on the basketball court at Wayne State, earning induction into WSU’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 2005.

Her day job is as an officer for the Michigan Department of Corrections, but her passion is officiating. She’s been an MHSAA-registered official for basketball for two decades and also was registered for volleyball for four years. This past fall she registered for football for the first time.

“I get something from it because it keeps me in shape, I love the people I work with and I like the kids,” Little said. “You are always teaching, and I like training the newer officials. I just enjoy it. I don’t know what I’d be doing if I wasn’t refereeing.”

Going forward, Little hopes her championship game assignment will now be an inspiration for other female referees.

“There aren’t very many women who would like to work boys basketball or feel comfortable,” Little said. “If that’s something they desire, I’m hoping more women are selected to work the games if they feel comfortable.”

Keith DunlapKeith Dunlap has served in Detroit-area sports media for more than two decades, including as a sportswriter at the Oakland Press from 2001-16 primarily covering high school sports but also college and professional teams. His bylines also have appeared in USA Today, the Washington Post, the Detroit Free Press, the Houston Chronicle and the Boston Globe. He served as the administrator for the Oakland Activities Association’s website from 2017-2020. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties

PHOTOS (Top) Delonda Little takes her position on the court during the Division 3 Boys Basketball Final on March 25 at Breslin Center. (Middle) Little monitors the action between Flint Beecher and Traverse City St. Francis.