Photos by Alexis Mercer
Story by Ken DeLaat
They simply refuse to lose.
After a grueling and heart pounding 31 minutes and 50+ seconds of defensive wizardry at its best, a back and forth game that left players and fans emotionally spent, the Lions found themselves down 2. They needed a bucket to send the game into overtime.
Jaxi Long who moments before kept her team in the game with a triple took the ball down court and launched a high arcing shot from several feet behind the three point line as time seemed to stop and the gym fell silent for a split second.
And she burned it.
The game winning blast from downtown produced a roar from the Newaygo crowd including a substantial and spirited student section.
The Lions took down a GR Christian team that arrived in Sparta with an impressive resume and a huge height advantage they tried to exploit all night.
But the Lions were having none of it.
Mathis, Goodin and Ruehmeier worked on the towering presence of Evie Doezema with help from their teammates and contained the Eagle efforts to take the ball inside. Frisbie popped in a couple of key threes during the game and provided relentless defense in the backcourt. There were heroes stepping up all night for the Lions.
The lead changed hands 9 times in the first half alone. The second half saw it seesaw another 8 times, but when the Eagles press forced a couple of late stops and they built a 4 point lead matching the biggest span of the night between the teams it looked grim for the Lions. Just
1:24 remained and they had gone cold the past 2 minutes as Christian outscored them 7-1 in that span.
But Jaylee Long was fouled on a three pointer and cooly went to the line to drain them 1-2-3.
Up by a point, Eagle Rory Pruis drew a foul and converted both to stretch the lead to 3 but Jaxi fired it in from the corner for a tie. Then it was Emma Witte’s turn at the stripe and she also sank both.
2 point lead and the clock ticking down with the Eagles vaunted defense tossing out their best, it might have been a curtain call for many teams.
But not this team.
And not Jaxi Long.
The young woman with ice in her veins knew she was going to take the shot as soon as the ball was in her hands.
And she wasn’t about to fail.
”I don't think as coaches we'll ever get an ending like that ever again.
“In the timeouts, we told them to stay focused. We always talk in the tournament about the momentum swings. Just stay locked in and confident.
“The girls stayed focused. Even at the end of the game when we got called for a foul with 8 seconds left and they hit free throws. Kudos to them.
“Jaxi had 19 points and 3 assists. Jaylee had 9 points and 4 rebounds. Emmerson had 8 points and 12 rebounds. Obviously they had a great game but all those other girls stepped up. Sophia had two big 3's that kept us hanging around. Kendall and Lily battled and more than held their own against Doezema and Fisk came in a wreaked havoc and played really hard as always. The bench kept everyone positive, stayed focused and provided great energy to everyone."
"Just a great win for these kids. It was close all game. The kids really believe and kept battling until the end obviously.
“We will enjoy the win tonight and try and come up with something to slow down a very talented and well-coached West Catholic team on Thursday. They are very good. We will have to play our best game of the year to beat them."
So now this incredible group of players who just knocked off the #3 team in the state will face their next opponent on Thursday.
#2 West Catholic.
As Coach Thomasma said, the Falcons are an extremely strong, talented and well coached team.
But hey, so are these Lions.