Shutdown Defense Lands Portland in 1st Final

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for

April 7, 2021

GRAND RAPIDS – Defense has been a staple of the Portland girls basketball team all season. 

The Raiders displayed that defensive prowess when it mattered most and are on their way to their first Finals appearance after a 45-38 win over Parma Western in Wednesday’s second Division 2 Semifinal at Van Andel Arena.

Portland held the Panthers scoreless the final 4½ minutes to punch its ticket to Friday’s championship game against Newaygo.

“It’s been like that all year for us,” Raiders coach Jason Haid said. “We spend an awful lot of time on defense, and that’s been key for us all year. We felt like they were getting in the paint too much in the first half, so we really focused on closing the gaps and taking away the paint and getting those tough rebounds.”

Parma Western’s Alyssa Gennety scored on a lay-up with 4:29 remaining to put her team ahead 38-37.

Unfortunately for the Panthers (18-5), those were the last points they would muster.

“We tried to slow the game down a little bit, and then we missed some crucial layups and had to put them on the line,” Parma Western coach Gina Fortress said. “We just couldn’t dig out of that hole.”

Parma Western, which was led by Lilli Luma’s 15 points and nine rebounds, also was searching for its first MHSAA Finals appearance. 

“Our main goal and the focus for this season was to win a Regional championship, and we did that and then we won on Monday so every game we’ve gotten past we’ve been so thankful for,” Fortress said. “And what an experience for these girls to come here and play in the Van Andel and have the experience we had today. We showed up to play, we gave them a good game and that was our plan all along.”

Portland/Parma Western Division 2 Semifinal 2Portland junior guard Ava Guilford made perhaps the biggest shot of the game. Her 3-pointer with 2 minutes left gave the Raiders a lead they would never relinquish.

“I just wanted to help my team any way I could, and my 3-pointer was looking good,” said Guilford, who made four from long range and finished with 12 points.

Portland, which led 25-21 at the half, last made an appearance in the Semifinals 11 years ago. 

That made the journey to get back even more satisfying.

“This was a history-making game,” Haid said. “No other Portland team has done that, and this is a very proud program. There’s been a lot of good teams that have come through Portland.

“It’s been a goal of ours to get here, and they’ve been dreaming about this for a long time. I’m just proud of the way they battled all game, and I’m just really happy for them.”

Junior Ashley Bower paced Portland (19-2) with 17 points, including making 7 of 9 from the free throw line.

“We’ve always dreamed about going to the Breslin, and to play for a state championship is just really exciting,” Bower said. “I’m proud of the way we played.”

Added senior point guard Ava Gruber, who had a team-high six assists: “It means a lot. All of us have played together since we were in third grade, and we’ve looked forward to this. All of our hard work is finally paying off.”

Friday’s Division 2 Final will be a rare rematch.

Portland handed Newaygo its only loss of the season, 38-33.  

“They are just like us,” Haid said. “They play hard-nosed physical man-to-man defense and mix in a little zone. They have great guard play and they are a hungry team, as are we. It’s a great match-up with two smaller schools going at it again, and we will be up for the challenge.”

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PHOTOS: (Top) Portland defenders swarm a driving Parma Western player Wednesday at Van Andel Arena. (Middle) The Raiders' Ashley Bower (10) and Western's Riley Kubiak battle for a loose ball. (Click for more from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)

Lansing Catholic Closes Season With Memorable Victory Close to Home

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

March 18, 2023

EAST LANSING – The Lansing Catholic girls basketball team took a short drive to end a long wait.

Playing just three miles from their high school, the Cougars defeated Frankenmuth 43-29 Saturday at the Breslin Center to win the MHSAA Division 2 Final. It was the first Finals title for the program since 1995.

“It felt like homecourt advantage a little bit,” Lansing Catholic senior guard Hannah Pricco said. “Our bus trip wasn’t super long. It just kind of felt like we were coming to our own court.”

The Cougars treated it that way, dominating from the beginning of the matchup in their first Finals trip since that 1995 title. They scored the game’s first 11 points and never looked back.

The Cougars’ Anna Richards (10) attempts to get a shot up over Frankenmuth’s Lexi Boyke.“This is, as you can imagine, extremely surreal,” Lansing Catholic coach Kacee Reid said. “You’re going through literally every emotion on the bench, especially in a game like that. Frankenmuth is making such a great comeback, and we knew they were going to fight to the end. To go through the anger and sadness and happiness, and now it’s over and we’ve won it. It’s just been a rollercoaster of emotions, and I can’t describe the pride I have in these girls.”

It was the second meeting between the two teams, with Lansing Catholic taking the first 74-42 on Feb. 2. But Reid wasn’t going to let her team come in overconfident.

“They didn’t get here by accident,” Reid said. “They’re in the state championship because they’re playing their best ball of the year. We played them a month and a half ago. … We’re a totally different team, and we knew they were a totally different team. We knew they had been playing some really good basketball, and it didn’t matter at all what that first outcome was. We knew this was going to be a battle.”

Lansing Catholic (24-5) never trailed, and led by as many as 17 points in the third quarter. Leah Richards led the Cougars with 16 points and nine rebounds, while Anna Richards had 14 points. Gabby Halliwill added seven.

The Cougars were spurred by their defense throughout, holding Frankenmuth to 9 of 36 shooting from the field and forcing 13 turnovers.

“For us, defensively, we had to switch it up,” Reid said. “We had to keep switching up between man and zone. They were making adjustments and we couldn’t really sit in one thing for too long; they got comfortable. That’s a credit to their coaching staff always making adjustments. We had to continue to switch things up defensively and try to hopefully make their shooters second-guess their shot, or maybe not know where we were coming from.”

Frankenmuth (25-3) didn’t go away, despite trailing by double digits for the majority of the game. 

That was helped by Lansing Catholic shooting 1 of 11 from the field in the third quarter, and going scoreless for the final 5:26 of the frame.

Tessa Roe (12) works to get past Clare Conzelmann and to the basket.The Eagles cut the lead to seven with 2:45 to play on a steal and layup from Clare Conzelmann, but never got closer.

“There was always belief no matter what detriment we got ourselves in,” Frankenmuth senior Lexi Boyke said. “I wouldn’t want to choose any other girls to play with and be in with at that point. I think we fought back and really prided ourselves on, ‘We can still do it.’ We didn’t stop fighting until the end.”

Lansing Catholic always figured Frankenmuth would make a run to get into the game, but was ready when it came.

“We knew they were going to make runs, we knew we weren’t going to hold them to seven points the whole game,” Anna Richards said. “We knew in the third quarter they were going to score, so we just had to stay composed, work the ball around on offense to get the good shots that we wanted.”

Boyke, who scored Frankenmuth’s first 10 points and was its only scorer well into the third quarter, finished with 16. She also reached 1,000 career points in the game, and had six rebounds, while Izzy Bernthal had seven.

Frankenmuth was making its first Finals appearance since winning the Class C title in 1996, one year after Lansing Catholic. 

“That’s a really good Lansing Catholic team, and you’ve seen that from their postseason run and beating an undefeated West Catholic team, and tonight finishing their season off with a state championship. So, congratulations to them,” Frankenmuth coach Joe Jacobs said. “I’m super proud of our kids. They didn’t quit tonight. They could have. … Fun experience, one that we want to treasure forever, but the motivation to come back again is here after tonight’s loss.”

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PHOTOS (Top) Lansing Catholic celebrates its Division 2 championship Saturday night at Breslin Center. (Middle) The Cougars’ Anna Richards (10) attempts to get a shot up over Frankenmuth’s Lexi Boyke. (Below) Tessa Roe (12) works to get past Clare Conzelmann and to the basket.