Lights out

Duncan MacLean • Mar 9, 2019 at 12:01 AM

RAVENNA — The Western Michigan Christian girls basketball team ran into a familiar playoff foe with some unique firepower in Friday night’s district finals, falling to red-hot Kent City 59-31.

The Eagles hold the top three single-game performances for made 3-pointers, and put their shooting on display early. After the Warriors grabbed a lead from the jump, Kent City buried 10 first-half 3-pointers to storm back ahead. Meanwhile, intense full-court pressure from an across-the-board athletic lineup flustered the WMC guards, putting points and even offensive possessions at a premium.

After a 7-4 WMC lead off the bat, Kent City took over with a 16-2 run through the rest of the first quarter for a 20-9 lead heading into the second. Eagles shots and Warriors turnovers piled up in the second, bringing on a 40-17 WMC halftime deficit.

The Warriors hit the second half with some extra heart, breaking the Eagle press and turning up their own defensive pressure. They would hold Kent City off the scoreboard for the first three minutes of the quarter, before fouling on a 3-point shot. The defensive stand plus a few hard-earned buckets by Taylor Folkema closed the gap to 41-23 before the Eagles got back on track, taking a 50-27 lead into the fourth.

In the final frame, Kent City slowed their scoring pace, but kept their defense up, outscoring WMC 9-4 to claim back-to-back district titles.

“The girls fought hard tonight,” said WMC head coach Jeremy Goorman. “You can watch all the film in the world. It is a different story when you see this team in person. They are one of the best Class C girls teams I have seen in years. I haven’t seen a team, boys or girls, shoot like that ever. It’s almost fun to watch if you aren’t on the other side of it. So, my hat is off to them.

“The press was an issue. I think that made the biggest difference in the game. If you can't break the press, who cares if they can shoot threes. I think that was the No. 1 thing that hurt us. They tired us out and made it hard to find their shooters.

“We played good defense to start, but it was hard to get any momentum. We would turn the ball over and never could string a few baskets together. That was the momentum we needed and we never got it.”

Folkema led the Warriors with 12 points, while the rest of the squad struggled to find the hoop through the Eagles’ defensive pressure. Anna Sytsema and Meghan Heiss each added four points, while Alyssa Eekhoff added three and Greta VanderHeide, Kayla Johnson, and Maddie Wiersema each added two.

The loss finishes WMC’s season at 17-4 overall, including a conference title. Three months ago with just nine girls on the roster, including only one senior, a season like that seemed unlikely.

“To go 17-4 is pretty phenomenal,” Goorman said. “We had some great moments this year. It was a grind. We started with nine girls and then to lose Jenna Housekamp to injury in December really hurt. It even hurt us tonight.

“It was a grind every day in practice. I’m only the ninth person, we couldn’t practice with 10.”

Just one of the nine rostered Warriors ended her career Friday night — Sytsema. The senior post player saw some huge moments for WMC during her three years on varsity, dominating in the paint the whole way.

“Anna, if you look at her career, she has two conference titles and a district title two years ago, it a phenomenal career,” Goorman said.

“She really helped change this program. There are different expectations for WMC now because of her. I’m very proud of her and our girls for what they accomplished.”

Just one outbound senior means WMC can start gearing up for another run. The trouble is, Kent City had a similar blessing with just three seniors on their roster, none of which crack the starting lineup.

“We have everyone back except Anna next year,” Goorman said. “It is going to require a lot of hard work. Folkema is a worker, she sticks around every day for 20 or 30 minutes after practice and that showed today.

“We talked after the game about how well Kent City shoots it. That isn’t by accident. It’s a good reminder that we have to put in the time.”

Kent City improves to 19-4 on their way into the regional tournament, where they will meet Pewamo–Westphalia (22-1) in the semifinals

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