Reece Hitt (33) of Western High School takes a shot over Maddie Alexander of Harper Creek during a home game on Friday. Photo by Jeff Steers, JTV Sports.
By Jeff Steers
It was too long ago that winning 10 games in girls’ basketball was a huge goal for the Western High School varsity basketball team.
Senior Natalie Shellberg remembers those days.
She is enjoying the feeling of winning an Interstate-8 Conference basketball title and being 18-2 a little bit better.
Shellberg and a host of players shut Battle Creek Harper Creek down in the second half to earn a 51-35 win. Both teams were 17-2 overall and 12-1 in the I-8 heading into the showdown at WHS on Friday night.
“Our defense stepped up and our offense ran the floor well in the second half,” Shellberg said. “It was a great team effort and a big change for the program.”
Shellberg was a freshman on a team that set a goal of winning one-third of its games three years ago. The Panthers moved up to having a winning record and finally winning its first conference title in 14 seasons this year.
“Our program has come such a long way,” WHS Coach Gina Fortress said. “This (winning a conference title) is goal No. 5 for us.
“Goal No. 6 is winning a district title.”
The Panthers have not won a district title in 31 years.
Both teams came out aggressive defensively in the first half as Western led 9-8 after eight minutes of action. Hillary Griffin scored five of the nine points for Western.
The Panthers were having trouble stopping Maddie Alexander on the inside in the first half. She scored 10 of the Beavers’ 18 points by halftime.
The score was tied at 18-all heading into the final 16 minutes of action.
That is when Shellberg and a group of defenders clamped down on Alexander and the Beavers.
“We tried a man-to-man defense but that did not work,” Coach Fortress said. Western went to a triangle-and-two against Harper Creek – something they did in game one against the Beavers – and it worked again.
Western held Harper Creek to 17 points in the second half for the win.
The Panthers led 33-29 after three quarters of play. Unselfish play led to the lead as six players scored in the quarter for the Panthers.
A hot stretch by Griffin stretched the lead. The sophomore scored nine consecutive points in the fourth quarter to stretch the lead to 16 points.
Griffin led all scorers with 21 points and Reece Hitt added seven points and three assists for Western. Alyna Lewis scored six points – all in the second half – and dished five assists and grabbed seven rebounds. Lilli Luma had seven rebounds for Western (18-2 overall, 13-1).
Alexander led Harper Creek (17-3, 12-2) with 16 points.
The Panthers will travel to Chelsea to play a Division 2 district semifinal against Hillsdale on Wednesday at 7 p.m. The winner will play in the district final at CHS on Friday at 7 p.m.