By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
GRAND RAPIDS – Freeland was doubled up in rebounding, shot 14 fewer free throws and had one more turnover than Hamilton during Friday’s first Division 2 Semifinal at Van Noord Arena.
But the Falcons won out in experience and accuracy – and those made the differences in earning their first MHSAA championship game berth since winning the Class C title in 1998.
Hitting 60 percent of its shots during the second half, and nearly half of its 3-pointers for the game, Freeland was able to come back from a double-digit second-half deficit and down previously-unbeaten Hamilton 71-66.
The Falcons trailed from the 4-minute mark of the second quarter until 5:13 remained in the game. But they were never out, even as Hamilton 6-foot-2 sophomore A.J. Ediger went for 33 points and 17 rebounds while controlling the paint most of the game.
“We always said we would go as far as we can, go out with a bang,” said Alyssa Argyle, who with Autumn Kloha and Lily Beyer will finish her fourth varsity season in Saturday’s Division 2 Final.
“We’ve always had that mentality to finish out hard and not give up.”
That came in especially handy as the Falcons (24-2) played in their second Semifinal in three seasons.
Hamilton (25-1) was playing in its first ever, adding to the best two-year run in program history. And in addition to Ediger’s post power and a team 42-20 scoring advantage in the paint, the Hawkeyes made 9-of-13 shots from the floor during the second quarter to turn a one-point deficit into an eight-point halftime lead.
But that was nothing new for the Falcons. They also had trailed at halftime in both Regional games and the Quarterfinal.
“I can’t say enough about these three girls and this team,” Freeland coach Tom Zolinski said, referring to his four-year seniors. “They have won in their careers 92 games, which is unbelievable, and they just wouldn’t let it happen tonight.
“We fell down quite a bit. We were undersized. Everything was against us. The crowd was huge for them. And (we) did it.”
Hawkeyes senior guard Bria Schrotenboer put her team ahead 34-23 with a free throw 58 seconds into the third quarter. They led by at least 11 as late as 2:48 to go in the period.
But over the next 5½ minutes, Freeland rambled through a 24-11 run with junior Kadyn Blanchard sinking 10 points and Beyer seven.
“Obviously that little run there where they caught fire, that’s what we saw from them every single game we’ve seen,” Hamilton coach Dan VanHekken said. “We knew they’d been down a few games here at halftime and didn’t quit. They again replicated that tonight. They’ve got a lot of heart and didn’t give up. They don’t get rattled. … Their body language, they were not rattled.”
The teams traded leads one more time before Argyle put Freeland ahead for good with a 3-pointer with 4:30 left.
“We worked so hard in the fourth quarter. We came back, and we had our heart in the game,” Kloha said. “And we knew we were down in the first half, but at halftime we needed to pick it up and keep our heads up, and we came back. And we came back strong, and we stayed together as a team.”
Argyle also scored her 1,000th career point during the fourth quarter and finished with 17 on the night. Blanchard led with 23 points, seven rebounds and four steals, and Beyer added 13 points.
Schrotenboer added 13 points and six rebounds, and senior guard Riki Ediger had nine points, eight rebounds, eight assists and five steals.
Hamilton capped a three-year run with a combined 71-5 record, also making its first Quarterfinal in 2018.
“Especially just being a four-year senior, I’ve been playing with these girls a long time,” Schrotenboer said. “It’s sad to go out this way, but we had the best record Hamilton ever had, and I will remember that forever.”
Click for the full box score.
PHOTOS: (Top) Freeland’s Autumn Kloha works to get past Hamilton’s Riki Ediger during Friday’s Division 2 Semifinal at Van Noord Arena. (Middle) Hamilton’s A.J. Ediger gets up a shot on the way to scoring 33 points.