By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
GRAND RAPIDS – Pewamo-Westphalia has played in three MHSAA Girls Basketball Finals. Three more teams have ended seasons in the Semifinals. Four more teams on top of those reached Quarterfinals and were done.
Total, that’s 10 teams that had made the final week of the season before this one. And now the Pirates have earned another opportunity to celebrate for all of them.
P-W will play for its first championship thanks to a 37-33 overtime win over Ypsilanti Arbor Prep on Thursday that also set the record for the lowest-scoring Semifinal in MHSAA girls basketball history.
Despite scoring six or fewer points during the second, third and fourth quarters, the Pirates outscored Arbor Prep 7-3 in the extra period to reach their second Final in three seasons.
“We’ve been here so many times before, and it’s frustrating when you just miss it by such a short amount,” P-W junior guard Ellie Droste said. “So this year being able to make it to the Finals again, and hopefully we can come out with the win … at practice every single day we work for these moments. We work on defense, we work on offense, we work on pressure situations. And that’s what got us here.”
The Pirates (26-1) will take on Flint Hamady in Saturday’s 4 p.m. Division 3 championship game at Calvin College.
Droste and Hannah Spitzley were freshmen on the P-W team that fell 46-44 to Detroit Edison in the 2017 Class C Final. Rachel Huhn was a sophomore sub on that team and then played 20 minutes as a junior in last season’s Semifinal loss to the Pioneers.
But the program’s drive for this opportunity goes back much farther than the last few years. The 1983 and 1984 teams both lost in Class C Finals – the 1983 Pirates to Hamady.
Arbor Prep (19-7) was last season’s Class C runner-up and playing in its fifth straight Semifinal.
“I was a 10-year-old boy back in 1984, 85, watching Carol Bogard Rademacher take teams to Western Michigan back at that time and fall short with great teams and great kids that were extremely well-coached,” Pirates coach Steve Eklund said. “It’s that hurdle we just haven’t been able to get over. So I’m excited for these kids, I’m excited for our community, I’m excited for all of these girls basketball teams we’ve had over the last 30 years that have been there and just not gotten over the hurdle. It just burns inside of me to go get that win Saturday, and we’re going to do everything in our power to go get that win for all of the teams from the past.”
To earn the opportunity, P-W had to hop a few hurdles Thursday. Arbor Prep featured one of the top freshmen in the state in guard Mya Petticord and 2018 all-state honorable mention Mahri Petree. And both teams struggled to get the ball through the hoop – P-W made 33 percent of its shot from the floor and Arbor Prep checked in at 29 percent, and combined they connected on just 7-of-33 3-point shots.
The Pirates ended the first quarter up 14-7. Arbor Prep stormed back to make it 18-18 at the break. For the game, the score was tied five times and the lead changed seven.
Droste scored to give P-W the first lead of overtime 28 seconds in, and she made two free throws to make the advantage 34-30 with 1:28 to play. Senior Karli Waddell came up with a huge 3-pointer for Arbor Prep to cut the lead to one with 33 seconds left on the clock. But Spitzley made 3-of-4 free-throw tries over the final 12 seconds, and Arbor Prep got off only one shot after Waddell’s 3-pointer.
“I think we lost to the state champion,” Arbor Prep coach Scott Stine said. “(I’m) disappointed we couldn’t score a few more points, questioning whether we should’ve been more aggressive defensively. That’s a coaching call … we’ll look at after today and decide if we should’ve been more aggressive, should’ve pushed the tempo.
“If you’d told me the score would be 34-30, I would’ve said it was 50/50 who would win the game. If you’d told me someone got to 50 points, I’d have said Arbor Prep would’ve won.”
Petticord led Arbor Prep with 14 points, and senior Kashyra Jackson had 10 and eight rebounds. Spitzley scored 16 to lead P-W, while Droste had 15 points and four assists. Junior Addison Bauer didn’t score a point and attempted just one shot, but grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds.
“My players made adjustments. Defensively after the first quarter, I thought they were extremely solid,” Stine said. “I thought we made things tough on them, just the same way they made things tough on us.”
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PHOTOS: (Top) Pewamo-Westphalia’s Ellie Droste makes a move toward the basket during Thursday’s second Division 3 Semifinal. (Middle) Arbor Prep’s Alaya Mack seeks an opening.