Newaygo 49 Sparta 30
For the first time since 2004 the Lions came home with some hardware winning the District title and moving on to Regional play next week.
And the defense truly never rested as Coach Nate Thomasma’s team put on a defensive clinic in the second half stuffing the Sparta offense and capturing the treasured victory.
A physical game from the start saw the bodies banging in the paint and some backcourt bruising.
Spartan Kensey Armock drove in for a pair of layups halfway though the first quarter to stake Sparta to an early 10-5 lead but Jaxi Long hit for 2, Jaylee Long followed with a score then after a dramatic Lily Ruehmeier block the ball found its way into Jaxi’s hands and she drained a triple that gave the Lions their first lead. Amrock responded with a bucket and it was 12 all after one.
When the second started Jaxi hit from distance again was answered by a Paige Wilson bucket before Jaxi hit another 3 from way downtown. After a stop Sophia Frisbie rifled a pass to Reuhmeier for 2 to stretch the lead to 6 before Amrock came through again converting a steal to 32 points and the half ended with the Lions on top 20-16.
Then came the third quarter.
The Lions came out on defensive fire holding the Spartans to a single free throw while Jaxi and Frisbie nailed triples and Emmerson Goodin rebounded her own shot and followed with a basket. Jaylee fired in a jumper and Mathis drained one at the buzzer and Newaygo took a 32-17 lead heading into the 4th.
The final frame was much the same as the Spartans were unable to penetrate the Lion defense and their outside shots constantly challenged refused to fall.
Meanwhile Newaygo continued to score and stretched the lead to 20 halfway through the quarter.
As time expired the excitement built until the final buzzer when pandemonium broke loose on the Lion bench and their fans, a vocal group all night, stormed the floor and the celebration began.
Coach Thomasma: “I could not be happier for these 13 girls tonight. They have dealt with ups and downs this season but continued to battle. Sparta is a tough physical opponent but the girls didn't back down. We have great fans that urged us on and it was great to see.
“We’ve been stressing the defense with the girls all year and it proved to be the key tonight. We had a couple of tough losses but this week the way they’ve played speaks to their character. I don’t know if you could have found many fans who thought we were going to pull it out after the third quarter against Fremont Wednesday but give a lot of credit to those girls. They didn’t give up.
”We'll enjoy it tonight and hope to keep it going next week in Regionals.”
Jaylee finished with 20 points 6 rebounds and 6 assists, Jaxi hit for11 points and Goodin was outstanding in the paint pulling down 11 boards and scoring 9.
The Long sisters along with their teammates had smiles as big as their performances when we caught up with them.
How do we feel?
Jaylee: “Way better than last year”
Jaxi: This was so much fun.”
What was the turning point?
Jaylee: “We came out hard in the third. We wanted to shut them down and the defense really did their job.
The key to the win?
Jaxi: “The defense definitely”
Jaylee: Yeah,the defense opened up the opportunities on offense and got our scoring going.
You had a rough go for awhile with those close losses to BR and Fremont. How did you regroup?
Jaxi: “We grew a lot as a team this year.”
Jaylee:”Yeah, the losses gave us the focus we needed and we really came together.
So next is the Regionals right? Any thoughts about playing GR Christian?
Jaylee: “We don’t know who’s next.”
Jaxi: ”We just take it one game at a time.”
And the next one is Tuesday.