The Warrior girls basketball team found themselves checked in for a rematch of last year’s district final game against the three-time defending champs, Kent City.
After skating through the first two rounds of the tournament, Western Michigan Christian had their work cut out for them in the final, but prevailed over the Eagles, 53-45.
“WMC has lost to Kent City a bunch of times in the district over the years,” WMC head coach Jeremy Goorman said. “All that came to mind tonight, they have been like our arch nemesis for years.”
The energy was palpable in the gym at Western Michigan Christian from the outset, with both teams gripping hard as the game began.
“They wanted it so bad, they were almost in tears before the game,” coach Goorman said of the pregame atmosphere.
A packed house and historic air had the Warriors a little too jazzed up to start the game. Each team threw their first possession away, before WMC grabbed their first bucket from the post.
After winning their first two playoff games by nearly 30 points in front of a nearly empty gym, the noise took some getting used to for the Warriors. The crowd and a fierce transition press by the Eagles forced turnovers early, keeping WMC off the scoreboard, which for coach Goorman may have been a blessing in disguise.
“We were turning it over, but we weren’t turning it over into transition baskets for them. It was travels or out of bounds, which allowed us to set up our defense,” he said. “That kept the score 4-4 for a long time. That helped us calm down, and showed we could stay with them.
“After that, we calmed down and started to get some offense.”
Sophomore post player Aubrey Goorman led the Warriors with her back to the basket, dropping eight points in the first quarter, willing WMC to a three-point deficit at the end of the first, 10-13.
The Warriors continued to struggle in transition, with both teams running downhill to keep up with the fast pace of the game. When WMC did manage to gather themselves into offensive sets, things started to happen.
WMC took their first lead midway through the second quarter, 16-15, on Cassie Kingma’s first bucket.
The Eagles rendered WMC’s multitude of press looks useless, scoring on the majority of their transitions, while the Warriors attempted to slow the pace and commanded the half-court game. The strategy paid off, WMC took a lead into halftime, 20-22.
“The coaches thought, if we could just break their press, we were bigger than them, and offensively, all year when we get into our half court game we score at a pretty high rate. The key was just getting the ball into our side of the court. “
The third quarter proved to be the breaking point. WMC ballooned their slim lead to nine points on the heels of back-to-back three pointers by senior Katelyn Wright. The downtown surge put them ahead for good, taking a 39-32 lead into the fourth quarter.
The buckets were part of just another day at the office for Wright, who saw them as an interruption in her defensive effort.
“I wasn’t making them (my shots) in the beginning,” she said. “Once I made my two I felt good, and was ready for defense.”
WMC took the fourth quarter by a score of 14-13 to seal their district championship, robbing the Eagles of their fourth straight.
“I can’t even put it into words,” Wright said of the championship feeling. “I’ve been waiting for this for four years. To get it my senior year is so great. It is a team thing. Our whole team was ready to beat them, we wanted it really bad. I’m so glad we did.”
Goorman paced the Warriors with 18 points with a perfect night from the free throw line, ahead of Anna Sytsema with 14, a mark long awaited by coach Goorman.
“Sytsema had a huge game,” he said. “She hit like five different phases. Played defense, stole a lot of balls, scored efficiently and passed. Her passes were incredible in the high low game, a real X-factor tonight.”
Kingma followed with seven points of her own., ahead of Wright’s six. Trailing the leaders were Grace Johnson and Shantelle Wilkonson with four points apiece.
“I was so proud of all the girls,” coach Goorman said. “So many of them played their best game of the season at once, that is what we have been waiting for.
“They have had sisters on the team who lost to Kent City, they have gone through the heartbreak. They got killed by Kent City in this game last year. To come back this year and beat them, it is pretty sweet.”
The victory, however, must be short lived. The Warriors now will begin to prepare for the regional tournament, which kicks off on Monday.
“I’m not sure who we have to be honest,” coach Goorman admitted. “My other coaches have looked at it, but it didn’t want to hear about it. It was all about Kent City, tonight. Now, we have a couple days to work on it.
“We want to go all the way to the state finals,” he smirked.
“We will take it just one game at a time.”