Standout Juniors Pace Portland's Historic Finish

By Perry A. Farrell
Special for

April 9, 2021

EAST LANSING – Through almost three quarters Friday, only three Portland players had scored in the Division 2 girls basketball championship game.

But the work of juniors Alivia Densmore, Ava Guilford and Ashley Bower was enough to carry the offense as the Raiders (20-2) racked up a 52-32 victory over Newaygo at the Breslin Center.

Bower led Portland with 20 points, while Guilford and Densmore chipped in 12 each. Earlier this season, Bower went over 1,000 points for her career and set the school scoring record.

“This whole season has been fun,’’ she said.

Friday’s Final matched a Raiders team making its first championship game appearance and a Newaygo team playing for its first title since 1985. It also was a rematch from Feb. 24, when Portland defeated Newaygo 38-33.

Portland coach Jason Haid recalled Friday how his team had a cancellation during the season and “we wanted to find a team that would test us. Newaygo came down during the middle of the week.

“Having played them helped. The number one thing we had on our minds going into this game was defense and defending ball screens. We know everything they were going to do would come off ball screens. The Longs (sisters Jaylee and Jaxi) are tough, and we knew we had to get out on them.’’

The Raiders trio combined for 40 points through three quarters as Portland built a 42-25 lead against the offensively-struggling Lions (21-2), who didn’t have a player reach double figures scoring.

Division 2 Girls Basketball FinalPortland increased its advantage to 21, 48-27, on two free throws from Ava Gruber with 5:54 to play.

“It wasn’t our night,’’ Newaygo coach Nate Thomasma said. “They took us out of a lot of things we wanted to do. It wasn’t for a lack of effort. That was the sum of the story.’’

After Bower scored the first four points of the game, the Lions went on an 8-0 run. But Densmore hit a floater in the lane as the first quarter ended to give the Raiders a 9-8 lead. Neither team shot better than 23 percent from the field over the first eight minutes.

Portland started hitting an offensive stride and outscored Newago 9-3 to open up an 18-11 lead during the second quarter. Densmore, along with Bower and Guilford, combined for all 18 points.

Densmore, just like she did in the first quarter, hit a buzzer beater to send the Raiders to the locker room with a 20-12 cushion.

Starting the second half, the Raiders got a triple from Guilford – the team’s sparkplug – a three-point play from Bower and another triple from Guilford to push the lead to 29-12.

Said Guilford: “My teammates were able to find me. Ashley is always unselfish, and it was important for us to stay confident and relaxed.’’

Newaygo got offensive life when senior guard Anna Brummel hit consecutive 3-pointers and Jaylee Long added a third to trim the deficit to 35-24 with 3:11 to play in the third quarter. But the Lions would get no closer.

Junior forward Emmerson Goodin led Newaygo with eight points and nine rebounds, and Jaylee Long and Brummel also both scored eight. Jaxi Long had seven rebounds and four assists.

Bower was 8 of 16 from the field and also had four assists. Densmore hit 6 of 11 shots and had three blocked shots. Portland finished the game making 42 percent of its shots from the field, while Newaygo connected on just 21 percent of its attempts.

Click for full box score

PHOTOS: (Top) Portland’s Alivia Densmore works for an opening during Friday’s Division 2 Final at Breslin Center. (Middle) The Raiders' Ashley Bower makes a move at the rim with Newaygo players walling her off. (Click for more from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)

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

By Keith Dunlap
Special for

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.