Lions Capture Second Straight District Crown
Team will face Montague Monday in Fremont
Photos by Alexis Mercer
Story by Ken De Laat
It wasn’t easy.
Sparta came out hitting some key shots and forcing the Lions to play their game as they fashioned a 16-10 lead spurred by Vallone who knocked down 9 points in the quarter. The Lions got a pair of triples from the Long sisters and buckets by Kayla Fisk and Emmerson Goodin to stay within range of the surging Spartans.
The teams played even in the second and when they hit the locker rooms Sparta continued to be in front with an 23-18 edge.
But the Lions flew out of the break as Lily Ruehmeier hit two quick baskets before Cowdery reached from long range for the hosts.
Jaylee Long proceeded to bang in three buckets in a row and gave the Lions their first lead at 28-26. It spelled a turning point in the game because after her third strike Sparta had just watched their last lead of the game vanish.
It was as if the Newaygo girls had taken control. The game took on a different feel as Jaxi Long and Ruehmeier added to the score and the team entered the last frame with a 6 point lead after their 14-3 run.
From there they put the pedal to the metal as Jaylee hit a three to open the period and Goodin and Jaxi Long added scores. Fisk, who once again tossed out some righteous defense on the night, stole the ball and found Goodin who converted to make it a 15 point game.
Sparta fought back with a pair of free throws and yet another triple by Vallone but the Lions were in charge at this point and with Sparta four fouls away from sending Newaygo to the line they worked at collecting those fouls as the Lions speed made this task difficult
When the dust settled the Lions achieved their second straight District title a well deserved reward for what has been a rugged couple of games.
Coach Thomasma: “Unbelievable win. Sparta came to play tonight. They play with such energy and toughness.
"What a great game by our girls though. Played great defense in the second half which really gave us our energy.I thought LIly Ruehmeier made some great plays in the third quarter to really spark us.
"Winning Back to Back Districts is a great accomplishment. Just so proud of these girls. They have worked extremely hard and it's fun to see it pay off for them. They just play for each other and they don't care about stats, they just want to win.
“Sometimes it's hard to live up to expectations. You’re supposed to win and teams are coming after you, but these girls handled it well. I can’t say enough about this team..
"We'll enjoy it tonight and get ready for a great Montague team on Monday."
Jaylee Long: ”It was so nerve wracking at first. We got to halftime behind and knew we needed to come out with energy and concentrate on defense. Kayla (Fisk) really helped with that. I’m always so happy she’s on my team because if we had to play against her it would be so annoying.
“I love this team. I’m glad we came out with a win.”
N3- You have a tough Regional ahead.
“Yeah, we always do. We’re going to give it everything we have like always and what happens, happens.”
Senior Lily Ruehmeier.” I love my team. We get along so great and back to back District Champs is just awesome! We’re excited for the next few games and to take up where we left off last year.
“And I’m so ready to keep it going. I’m not ready to be done yet.”
And they are certainly not done yet.
Monday this group of players who exemplify what happens when you combine talent, hard work and leadership will head to Fremont where they will face an undefeated Montague team in the first round of Regional play.
Kayla Fisk was asked about the upcoming game and whether playing against one of the best teams around would bother her squad.
“Not really. We’ll be ready,” she said with utter confidence.
Of course they will.
Because when it comes to talking about the best teams in the region?
The Lions cannot be kept out of that conversation.