Newaygo one game short of ending decades-long state title drought

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Newaygo High School girls basketball coach Nate Thomasma had a hard time finding the words to describe his team at the press conference following a state semifinal victory over Detroit Country Day.

Of course, when his team is playing for its first state title since 1985, it’s understandable as to why.

“I found myself speechless in the locker room too,” Thomasma said. “I just kept rambling. This is a once-in-a-lifetime moment. I don’t care if you’re a traditional power or not — It’s not easy to do.

“But this team has a championship mindset,” he continued.

That mentality of toughness proved to be the difference in the Lions’ 55-39 win over DCD at Van Andel Arena, sending them to the Breslin Center on Friday for a shot at winning the Division 2 crown.

The double-digit margin of score is not indicative of how the game played out, however.

The Lions had a hard time early finding open shooters on offense and adjusting on defense.

That’s why it was a slim 10-8 lead for Newaygo heading into the second frame. Then, Thomasma ran different plays to work around the surprise man-to-man defense DCD was running.

It helped the Lions build a 27-20 lead heading to the break.

“I think we settled in nicely after preparing for mostly 2-3 zones,” Thomasma said. “They rebounded the heck out of the ball on the offensive glass, so we have to make adjustments there as well. I think our girls responded very well.”

In the second half however, DCD came out playing with a different fire. They lit up the scoreboard, dropping 14 points to the Lions’ 12 and dwindling the Newaygo advantage down to just 5 points. In the fourth quarter, DCD picked up where it left off and scored the first four point to trail just 39-38. Thomasma called a timeout.

This is where that “championship mindset” really shined through.

After a couple free throws, the Lions got another huge triple off the bench from Anna Brunmel, followed by a steal from senior Jaylee Long, who gave a full court heave to Emmerson Goodin for an easy transition layup. Just like that, Newaygo led by eight.

It would eventually go on a 16-1 run to close the game and earn the blowout final score.

“Last year, we weren’t able to finish the season. So now, we had the chance and I think this shows what this team can do” Long said. “It’s kind of crazy and it was good to see our entire community come out. Now we need to finish (the state title run) off.”

Jaxi Long, who was second on the team behind Goodin (15) with 12 points, mentioned this team is so good because it believes anyone on the roster can shoot the ball well. The stats back it up from this game alone.

Three players scored in double figures and six total scored 5 or more points on the eight-player roster.

“I love this team and we love each other,” Jaxi Long said. “We all love to hangout and just be around each other. This has been a once-in-a-lifetime (opportunity) and it’s happening because this is the best team to be on.”

When the Lions did win back in 1985, it was a back-to-back title with the 1984 Class C Championship.

On Friday in East Lansing against Portland, the Lions have the chance to end the three-plus decade drought and bring more credit to its championship mentality.