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 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.”
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.)
STAMBAUGH — Danica Shamion has enjoyed plenty of success in track & field throughout her high school athletic career.
The West Iron County senior is also quite successful in basketball.
Shamion joined the 1,000-point club here Jan. 23 while scoring 34 in a 63-60 loss to Norway.
“That really felt good,” she said after last week’s 93-41 win over Bessemer on Senior Night. “I’m glad I was able to do that at home. Although, it would have been even better had we won that game.”
The Wykons scored five in double digits against the Speedgirls, led by senior Siena Stine with 20 points. Junior center Sidney Storti added 17 points, and Shamion finished with 16 points and 17 assists.
“Sidney is a real asset to our team,” Shamion said. “I can see the floor pretty well, and the other girls are doing a pretty good job getting open. This was our last home game. It definitely meant something to us.”
Shamion, an All-Upper Peninsula Division 1-3 first-team selection a year ago, twisted her ankle in a season-opening 47-40 triumph over Iron Mountain and missed the next three games.
West Iron was 1-3 going into the holiday break before getting back on track with a 42-28 victory over Kingsford on Jan. 2. That enabled the Wykons to improve to 4-3 before dropping six of their next seven games.
West Iron, which was 5-9 after dropping a 73-55 decision at Negaunee, had won four in a row prior to Thursday’s 46-44 loss at Calumet. But the Wykons bounced back with a 51-49 win over Ishpeming Westwood on Tuesday to get back to .500 at 10-10.
“We were trying to forge our identity and weren’t hitting our shots (earlier in the season),” Shamion said. “Although, we’ve been playing better defense lately. We’re pretty good one-on-one and usually play man-to-man. We try to run the floor and score in transition.
“Negaunee is probably the best team we’ve seen this year, although Ishpeming and Houghton are also very good and Calumet and Westwood are tough,” she added.
In track & field, Shamion set U.P. Division 2 Finals record in the 200-meter dash (26.34 seconds) and 400 (57.18) last season. She also won the 100 (12.79) and placed second in high jump at 4 feet, 10 inches. She is a three-time Finals champion in all three sprint races.
Shamion also made the all-U.P. Volleyball Dream Team in the fall.
She will continue on the track at Central Michigan University after she graduates from West Iron this spring.
“I didn’t know much about their program, but I was interested in what they had to offer,” she said. “The girls on the team are nice, which is part of the reason why I chose Central. It’s a relief to have that decided.”
John Vrancic has covered high school sports in the Upper Peninsula since joining the Escanaba Daily Press staff in 1985. He is known most prominently across the peninsula for his extensive coverage of cross country and track & field that frequently appears in newspapers from the Wisconsin border to Lake Huron. He received the James Trethewey Award for Distinguished Service in 2015 from the Upper Peninsula Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association.
PHOTOS (Top) West Iron’s Danica Shamion (24) blocks a shot during her team’s game at Ishpeming on Jan. 15. (Middle) Shamion maintains possession of the ball. (Photos by Cara Kamps.)