Grand Rapids — A week after Pewamo-Westphalia’s boys basketball team won its first state title, its girls basketball team earned a championship of its own with a 40-33 victory over Flint Hamady on Saturday afternoon in the Division 3 final at Van Noord Arena.
Hamady’s defense had been limiting its opponents to under 40 points a game while punching its ticket to the title game.
Well, Pewamo-Westphalia (27-1), ranked No. 8 in The News Super 20 poll, beat Hamady (21-6) at its own game to walk away with the ultimate trophy, limiting Hamady to 24.4-percent shooting.
In fact, Hamady missed 14 second-half shots within 3-feet of the basket, a reason it walked away with the runnerup trophy.
It had to feel like the longest fourth quarter of Pewamo-Westphalia coach Steve Eklund’s career … or maybe life. When the P.A. announcer called Pewamo-Westphalia the Division 3 state champion during the postgame ceremony, Eklund gave out a big sigh of relief.
Six-foot junior Hannah Spitzley, a Western Michigan commit, and junior point guard Ellie Droste started the fourth quarter on the bench, each with four fouls, leaving Rachel Huhn and her teammates needing to break Hamady’s press.
“I thought we did a good job when they took a good run in the first half and then they got desperate and threw the whole kitchen sink at us in the second half and we persevered,” Eklund said. “It wasn’t pretty, but we out-pointed them and did the little things. We took care of the basketball at times. We made our free throws and defensively we got stops.”
When asked about having Spitzley and Droste sitting next to him in the fourth quarter, Eklund replied: “That’s why in practice we fouled Ellie out so we can play without her, the same thing for Hannah, have to learn how to survive without them. Give credit to everybody else that was on the court for picking up the slack."
Said Droste: “I just knew the entire time that my teammates, they had our backs. Me and Hannah both got in foul trouble. It’s hard because we’re used to being out there, but we have such confidence in our teammates. We trust each other so much.”
With points hard to come by, it was Huhn who knocked down a 3-pointer from the right corner for a 32-24 lead with 5:30 left.
“I just knew with those two sitting out, just because they are two great players and two great scorers, that I had to look to shoot so I knew I was open and I just told myself to knock it down and when it went in I was pretty happy,” said Huhn, who finished with 10 points and six rebounds.
Spitzley returned with 4:02 left and Pewamo-Westphalia holding a 32-28 lead, but she fouled out just 19 seconds later and Aryana Naylor made two free throws to make it a one possession game.
Then, Eklund put Droste back in with foul fouls, knowing he needed her in the game to beat Hamady’s press in the final minutes. Droste did the job, staying on the court while not picking up her fifth.
Droste came through with a big steal and took the ball to the basket, getting fouled while Hamady’s Jordan McKeller was trying to pick up a charge with 1:14 left.
Droste made a free throw for a 33-31 lead.
Hamady had a chance to pull even or take the lead, but while trying to get a clear-out to have Xeryia Tartt take the ball to the basket, Tartt lost the ball and Emily Nurenberg made the steal. She tossed it to Droste, who was fouled again by McKeller, who fouled out with 42.5 seconds left.
Droste stepped to the line and made both free throws to make it a two possession game, 35-31, and Huhn made four more free thorws for a 39-31 cushion with 21 seconds left to start the celebration.
“When there’s a loose ball on the floor my money is on her (Nurenberg) and that was a reactionary play, a hungry kid ,” Eklund said.
Droste finished with a game-high 18 points, on 3-of-6 shooting, but more importantly 12-of-14 from the line after consistently attacking the basket.
Spitzley finished with eight points and three rebounds in 18 minutes.
“There were a lot of people who didn’t thing we could make it here,” Hamady coach Keith Smith said. “We made it here and we played a good game. We went down fighting.”
Tartt had 15 points and five steals for Hamady.