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.)

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.”

Click for the full box score.

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.