Spartan girls come back but fall short in home opener

The Grand Rapids Thunderhawks blocked two 3-point attempts in the final seconds of the game Thursday night as the Superior High School girls basketball team lost its home opener, 43-30.

The Grand Rapids Thunderhawks blocked two 3-point attempts in the final seconds of the game Thursday night as the Superior High School girls basketball team lost its home opener, 43-30.

The Spartans were forced to come back from a double-figure deficit twice, after falling behind in both the first and third quarters. SHS head coach Dan Schulz said his team had been able to get off to good starts in their previous games this year. Thursday, however, that was not the case.

"In the beginning, they hit a couple of shots early and we made a few turnovers, which is how I think their lead got extended a little bit," he said.

Superior turned the ball over in three of their first four possessions, allowing Grand Rapids to take an early 5-2 lead. Britnee Blake made a free throw at 3:29 to move the Spartans within two, but the Thunderhawks ended the first quarter with an 8-0 run to lead 13-3.

All of Superior's first-quarter points came from free throws. Meanwhile, Grand Rapids did a good job of getting the ball into the post and then kicking it back out to the perimeter when unable to score. The Spartans also had trouble with Grand Rapids' quick ball movement, as a number of Thunderhawks were left open on the perimeter.


"We had a couple breakdowns in stretches there," Schulz said. "I think the effort was there, but we lacked a little bit of aggressiveness at times. They got us really on a couple of skip passes on the perimeter where we were supporting the post."

In the second quarter, the Spartans started their first comeback of the night. With 5:57 left in the half, senior Laura Amys got the ball in the post and went up strong to make the score 17-10 in favor of Grand Rapids. Amys got a stop on the defensive end and then scored again in the paint to move Superior within five points.

The Spartans continued to chip away at Grand Rapids' lead and closed the gap to three when Shannon Lehikoinen hit a shot from behind the arc with 2:20 left in the second quarter. A few possessions later Lehikoinen hit another 3-pointer to give Superior its first lead of the game, 23-22, with less than a minute left before halftime.

The Thunderhawks' Brynn Joki got an offensive rebound and the putback in the final seconds to reclaim Grand Rapids' lead, 24-23, at halftime.

After working hard to get themselves back into the game, the Spartans faltered again to start the third quarter. Grand Rapids opened with a 10-0 run, and Superior found itself in the same situation it had just battled to get escape.

"In the third quarter, they went to zone, and we didn't get enough entries into the interior. We settled for a few too many outside shots in the third quarter," Schulz said. "I really thought that was the difference in the game. They made that run against us when they were in the zone and that really hurt us. That put us behind, and we were fighting back the whole way."

Blake led the fight for the Spartans. She hit a free throw, jump shot and 3-pointer to account for all of Superior's scoring in the third quarter.

"She is just an extremely solid player," Schulz said of Blake. "She really feeds off the tempo of the game, and she delivers whatever we need. If we need scoring, she'll give us an infusion of scoring. If we just need to settle our offense down and work it around and get the ball to the inside, she gives us that. She's one of the smartest basketball players I've been around, and she's a second coach on the floor."


Trailing 37-29 to start the fourth quarter, Blake continued to be strong for Superior. She scored seven points, starting with the Spartans' first play when she drove to the basket, drew a foul and made both free throws to cut Grand Rapids' lead to six. Junior Kara Hoff cut into the lane and scored on a pass from Amys to make it 37-33.

With two minutes left, the Spartans trailed 41-40. Superior took possession of the ball and set up to get a good shot, but the Thunderhawks' Ashley Runge made a crucial steal with about a minute left to play. The Spartans got the ball back on a jump ball call, but Joki blocked a shot attempt to return the ball to Grand Rapids.

Superior was forced to foul as the clock ran down, and Runge hit both free throws in a one-and-one situation to give the Thunderhawks the 43-40 win.

"I want to give our girls credit. They really battled back and played solid defense, got some steals; we just couldn't grab the lead," Schulz said. "We turned the ball over twice down the stretch when we had opportunities to get the lead; a couple of crucial turnovers."

Runge shot well from the outside to lead Grand Rapids with 13 points, and Joki also finished in double figures with 12.

"They skipped the ball over and (Runge) knocked down a couple of shots on skip passes where we closed out a little bit late on her," Schulz said. "But overall I wasn't displeased with our defense."

Blake led the Spartans with 18 points, making 7-of-9 free throws. Lehikoinen finished with nine points, Amys had six, Taylor Kosey had five and Hoff had two.

For Superior's next game at Eau Claire North on Dec. 7, Schulz said the team will continue to be patient on offense and try to get more touches inside against a zone defense.


"We just have to make sure we're patient enough to get the ball inside on just about every possession because that's what our strength is -- we go inside and kick it back out to our shooters," he said.

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