D1 GIRLS SEMIS: Hudsonville clamps down on Dow defensively, moves on to first-ever title-game appearance
EAST LANSING — Defense travels better than anything else.
And Hudsonville’s defense has the Eagles traveling back to Breslin Center on Friday, for their first-ever appearance in the title game.
Hudsonville’s defense held a normally sharpshooting Midland Dow team to 26 percent shooting in Wednesday’s Division 1 semifinal, and a season-low point output, winning 49-37 to advance to the championship contest.
“I hope it’s not a secret anymore, but I think we’re one of the best defensive teams in the state of Michigan, and I think we’ve got kids up here that come out every day to play, and D it up,” Hudsonville coach Casey Glass said. “And that was case in point tonight. You had Alaina (Diaz) and Ava Joldersma on their two best players, and really just tried to use a little bit of extra height and athleticism there to shut down their two best players, and I thought we did a really good job of that.”
Hudsonville (22-1) will face Detroit Renaissance (13-4) in the D1 final at 12:30 p.m. on Friday. The Phoenix beat Wayne Memorial (17-3), 75-72, in Wednesday’s earlier semifinal.
“That’s a program, a historic program, and one that likes to put pressure on you. Luckily, we’ve got kids that can handle that pressure,” Glass said. “We’ll get back into Hudsonville, and watch some film, and draw up a game plan.”
The Eagles lost in their only other trip the semifinals, falling 60-45 to Warren Cousino in 2016.
This time, they weren’t going to let the score get that high, and didn’t give Dow (22-1) any room to breathe, defensively.
“In getting here, and being ready, I thought we were prepared. We were ready to go. We knew exactly what they were going to do, and they did it. And I thought this game basically just came down to they made some more shots than us. We make our run in the second quarter, when we hit a few 3s, and get on a roll, take the lead, then in the second half, we go 0-for-9 from the 3-point line. All year long, we’ve said when we’re making shots we can beat anybody, and when we’re missing shots, anybody can beat us. And that was what the second half was. We just missed some shots. We got good looks at the 3, and they just didn’t go down,” Dow coach Kyle Theisen said. “We don’t usually shoot that poorly. For our team, we were ready, got the shots we wanted, and sometimes they just don’t go down. I absolutely love the effort of our girls, the all-out hustle on every play, and never giving up. Just today was one of those days where the shots didn’t go in.”
The Chargers led for just 1:56 of the game, leading 2-0, 5-3 and again at 18-17. Other than that, the Eagles — who have five players at 6-foot or better — controlled the pace, controlled the boards, and kept Dow’s 3-point shooters in check.
“I think the biggest thing is we just trust each other, and we communicate,” Maddie Petroelje said. “I think that’s what we were able to do on their two best players, communicate with screens, hedge out on their shooters. Just the trust factor is huge for us.”
The Chargers came in having hit 188 shots from 3-point range through regionals, and at a 34 percent clip. They were 4-for-15 from behind the arc Wednesday.
“I thought Diaz did a good job. We tried to get some switches on ball screens, and she did a really good job of getting overtop or underneath on those ball screens. We were trying to attack some of their bigs with our guards, and she made it difficult. Really good defender on the ball, and when you have that much height defending the rim on the help side, it was — there were no easy points to be had,” Theisen said. “We knew that they were coming on the help side, we knew we were going to have to finish through contact. It wasn’t as easy — you see it on film, it’s a little different, but when every single player is giving up such a height advantage. We knew we were going to have the kick-outs for the shooters, and it was there. Once we got to the lane, we had the kick-outs. That was the game-plan. That’s what we expected. We got what we wanted. Who knows? Maybe it’s just an off night shooting, maybe it’s the arena. The feel of not being used to that backdrop. But tonight wasn’t our night to make shots.”
Jada Garner and Alexa Kolnytis were averaging just a shade over 30 points per game combined, but the Eagles held them to just 13 in Wednesday’s game, 11 of those by Kolnytis.
“Well, I feel like most of our game is defense, and every day in practice, we push ourselves to play defense,” Diaz said. “At practice, we scrimmage against each other, so we make each other work harder.”
The Eagles had all five starters score six or more points, led by Petroelje’s 15. Jaci Tubergen had 11 rebounds and Emmalyn Costen had 10, as the Eagles outrebounded Dow, 38-27.
Hudsonville led 25-21 at the half, and 35-29 headed to the fourth, but held Dow scoreless until just 1:35 remained in the game pumping the lead up as high as 14 points.
“With four minutes left, we knew we had to kick it in, so there was a lot of running around, pressuring the ball, trying to cause turnovers to be able to cut the lead down,” Kolnytis said of playing a bit short-handed. “At the end there, it was definitely more exhausting. Having to play all game, then find that fuel is not easy.”
The Chargers graduate just two, Garner and Chloe McVey, who missed the final two games of the playoff run with an ankle injury. Garner finishes her four-year career just 26 points shy of reaching the 1,000-point plateau, something that Theisen knows she easily could’ve reached with a full healthy season last year, or a normal season this year.
“Her legacy is right there with anybody that’s ever walked through our doors,” Theisen said of his three-year captain, who finishes her career with just a dozen varsity losses.
It was the first trip to the final four for Dow.
“Oh, yeah, it is really special. No one really thought we’d make it this far. We proved a lot of people wrong, and that’s what we wanted to do,” Garner said. “They really fueled our fire to get here. With the season getting cut last year, that really put motivation on our back, and we wanted to get this far, if not farther. We worked really hard for this, and really wanted it, even though it didn’t turn out the way that we wanted it to, we’re still the first (Dow) team to be in the final four, so that’s something to not hang our heads about and be proud of.”