Riley Sisters, Fowler Hold Off Baraga Rush to Earn Repeat Opportunity

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for

March 17, 2022

EAST LANSING – With Thursday night’s Division 4 Semifinal hanging in the balance, Fowler coach Nathan George knew who he could count on.

In fact, he knew two players he could look lean on in tense moments, and they happen to be from the same family.

Emma and Mia Riley made clutch free throws during the final minute to stave off a furious comeback attempt from upset-minded Baraga.

The Eagles hung on to defeat the Vikings 51-45 at the Breslin Center and advance to the Finals for the second straight year as they seek to repeat as Division 4 champions.

“They play a lot of basketball, so there’s not a lot of situations where they get truly overwhelmed,” George said. “So I had confidence in them that they were going to hit free throws. It got crazy late, but we were lucky the ball bounced our way and we were able to put the game away.”

Mia Riley, a senior, delivered a double-double with a game-high 24 points and 11 rebounds, while Emma, a junior, had 17 points and nine rebounds.

Baraga/Fowler basketballClinging to a one-point lead (45-44) with 54 seconds left, Mia Riley made a pair of free throws to extend the lead.

After Baraga’s Reide Osterman made 1 of 2 free throws, it was Emma Riley’s turn with 29 seconds left, and she too calmly knocked down both to give the Eagles a four-point cushion.

“It’s like everything you’ve ever practiced for and it makes all that hard work pay off when you can be in that position and finally get the chance to prove yourself,” Mia Riley said. “That was the time to step up, and I’m thankful that I did it.”

Said Emma Riley: “It was pretty scary to be up there and just knowing that we needed the free throws, but we just had to do exactly what we always practice and they should fall.”

Fowler (23-3) will have the opportunity to repeat as Division 4 champion facing Plymouth Christian Academy in Saturday’s 10 a.m. Final.

“Since we've been here before, we’re somewhat used to playing at the Breslin so it’s kind of a comforting thing to know that we’ve been here and we’ve done it before,” Mia Riley said. “We can do it again, and we have those capabilities. It’s a lot nicer since we can have the stands filled and it's not so quiet like last year.”

Fowler built a commanding first-quarter lead as its defense forced turnovers that led to easy baskets on the other end.

Avery Koenigsknecht knocked down a 3-pointer at the buzzer to cap a 12-0 run as the Eagles held a 17-4 advantage.

Baraga trimmed the deficit to 28-18 by halftime and got as close as one from the lead twice during the decisive fourth quarter.

“Give Baraga a lot of credit because they played a good game and probably worked harder than us overall,” George said. “That's something I didn’t expect, and we need to be much more focused and play with more energy come Saturday. I fully believe we will, but I hope this was a wake-up call for the girls and I know it was for me.”

Baraga (23-2) was making its first trip to the Semifinals since 1992, and was the only Upper Peninsula school to make it this far this week.

First-year coach Tyler Larson was proud of his team’s effort in nearly erasing the early double-digit deficit and upsetting the reigning champion.

“Just a tough one,” Larson said. “We didn’t come out the way we wanted to, but we kept it close enough where we could hang around in the second half.

“It was like a boxing match with taking turns swinging and landing punches. We climbed our way back, and I’m very proud of the way the girls handled a little adversity on such a big stage. We just fell a little short in the end.”

Osterman, a senior, led the Vikings with 17 points and nine rebounds, while sophomore Makenna Hendrickson added eight points and eight rebounds.

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS (Top) Fowler’s Mia Riley (25) drives the lane during Thursday’s Division 4 Semifinal win at Breslin Center. (Middle) Baraga’s Kylie Michaelson (15) gets a shot up over the Eagles’ defense. (Click for more from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)

Teams of the Month: Hart Girls & Boys Basketball

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

March 23, 2023

Few communities in Michigan this winter celebrated as many sizable basketball achievements as small-town Hart.

The 2,000-resident Oceana County seat, about seven miles off the Lake Michigan shore and sitting about 20 miles south of Ludington and 30 north of Muskegon, celebrated accomplishments by both its girls and boys basketball teams that carried statewide significance – and made choosing either over the other’s impossible.

The Hart girls and boys basketball teams are the MHSAA/Applebee’s “Teams of the Month” for February, and this announcement is coming toward the end of March as both just kept winning and adding to their season-long lists of feats.

The Pirates girls made the first major headline when they defeated second-place Mason County Central 51-32 on Feb. 10 to clinch the outright West Michigan Conference Rivers championship. The Hart girls had also won the formerly one-division WMC in 2021-22, and this year’s run ran their league winning streak to 31 games.

Then the boys took their turn, clinching a share of the Rivers championship Feb. 17 with a 67-51 win over North Muskegon and then the title outright by defeating Mason County Central 63-45 on Feb. 23. This league title received some statewide buzz as it was the Hart boys’ first since 1963.

A week later, Hart’s boys finished a 22-0 regular season – becoming the only boys team, and joined by only three girls teams – to go 22-0 this first season that MHSAA member schools were allowed to play 22 games instead of the previous longtime maximum of 20.

The Hart boys then drew into one of the strongest Districts in the state in any division, with the Division 2 group at Big Rapids including four league champions. The Pirates opened with a win over the host Cardinals – winners of the Central State Activities Association – before ending their season at 23-1 with a loss to Big North Conference co-champ Cadillac in the District Final.

The Pirates girls, meanwhile, had clinched their Division 3 District with a third win over Mason County Central, and then won a Regional by edging two-time reigning Finals runner-up Kent City 37-34 – in the process also avenging Hart’s first loss of this season, from Dec. 20. The Regional title was the Hart girls' first since 1992.

Next up was 23-1 Buchanan – and Hart made its biggest statewide splash by handing the Bucks a 45-41 Quarterfinal defeat that sent the Pirates to the MHSAA Girls Basketball Semifinals for the first time.

Hart would end up falling to eventual champion Hemlock 57-26 at Breslin Center, finishing the season 24-4.

“I said it the other day: We’re kinda overlooked. Last year we had a really good team, probably one injury away from another run like this,” said Hart girls basketball coach Travis Rosema during the press conference after the Semifinal. “It started with people investing into the girls. Now that players like Aspen (Boutell) and Abbey (Hicks) have made this run, I saw so many young faces. … We left this morning, the elementary school was packed, and every kid had a sign. It’s a positive impact (and) it’s going to be a lot moving forward.”

The Pirates girls were keyed by Hicks, a junior, sophomore Addi Hovey and Boutell, one of three senior starters.

The boys were paced by senior Parker Hovey, who went over 1,000 points for his career and will continue at Hope College.

Past Teams of the Month, 2022-23

January: Taylor Trillium Academy bowling - Report
Byron Center hockey - Report
Martin football - Report
Gladwin volleyball - Report
Negaunee girls tennis - Report

(PHOTOS by Kara Raeth/CatchMark SportsNet.)