Lady Cats’ defense paves the way to district title
EDWARDSBURG — Tessa Hawkins couldn’t hold back the tears.
The junior guard openly let out her emotion following an improbable 41-32 upset win by her Three Rivers girls’ basketball team over host Edwardsburg that gave her Lady Cats a Class B district title Friday night.
“District champions! I can’t describe what this feels like. I haven’t felt like this since we won the league championship as eighth graders,” Hawkins said.
“We are a total team with players who play together and don’t try to do too much on their own.”
Three Rivers, now 10-13, hosts next week’s regional tournament. The Lady Cats likely will see fellow Wolverine Conference member Otsego in Tuesday’s semifinal.
Hawkins was part of a Three Rivers roster filled with role players. Individuals content with contributing whatever little piece they could this week during the team’s improbable run to the school’s first district crown since 2013-14 season.
Three Rivers defeated Paw Paw, Vicksburg and Edwardsburg on its way to collecting its latest district trophy. Both Vicksburg and Edwardsburg had defeated Three Rivers twice during the regular season.
At the center of Three Rivers’ play on the court this week was its stellar performance on the defensive end of the floor.
Edwardsburg committed just 12 turnovers on the night, but Three Rivers capitalized at the offensive end of the floor and scored on a few of those at critical times.
“We are getting the right rotations and rhythm right now on both ends of the floor,” said Three Rivers coach Jason Bingaman. “All week we have told the girls that we don’t need to do anything special, just play together and have everyone contribute something for us to be successful.
“We played with a lot of energy, emotion and effort. No one took a possession off and going back home to play in the regional on our home floor is our reward.”
The Lady Cats’ defense held the Lady Eddies’ 1,000-point scorer and all-state candidate Samantha Dixon to just seven points on the night.
Kaitlyn Zarycki led the Eddies, who finish 19-3, with 15 points.
Three Rivers forced Edwardsburg into one of its poorest night’s shooting of the entire season. The Eddies finished 10-of-52 from the floor, including 2-for-17 beyond the three-point arc. Edwardsburg made 8-of-12 free-throw attempts.
“We’ve struggled the last couple weeks to make shots,” said Edwardsburg coach Jon Pobuda. “It happens to the best of teams. Three Rivers is playing well right now and is heading in the right direction now. Their record doesn’t indicate how much they’ve improved.
“My hat’s off to Three Rivers. They are well-coached. Jason does a nice job and they were just simply the better team tonight.”
Three Rivers made 17-of-42 shots from the floor, including 2-of-6 from three-point territory, and 5-for-8 at the foul stripe.
Freshman forward Hadley Miller took the Lady Cats on her back as she poured in 15 points to go with an astounding 17 rebounds, including 13 in the second half, and had two steals.
Senior Rhyeli Krause contributed nine points, while junior Arionne Fowlkes finished with eight, Hawkins five and Izzy Taylor and Diamond Carter two each.
Three Rivers survived a rough night in the turnover department with 20.
Rebounding was a critical statistic with Three Rivers owning a 33-24 advantage. The Lady Cats came down with 24 of those at the defensive end of the floor.
Cara Smith had three assists. Krause added three steals and Taylor hauled down seen rebounds.
Edwardsburg led Three Rivers by just one, 9-8, at the end of the first quarter.
Three Rivers led early in the period 7-3 following a three-pointer by Miller.
Edwardsburg scored six of the first eight points of the second quarter to go up by six, 16-10, on Three Rivers.
The Lady Cats quickly rallied to tie the contest at 18-18 by halftime.
Junior Diamond Carter ignited a late rally in the second quarter for Three Rivers with a shot inside. Miller and Fowlkes both added layups and Taylor drained a shot from underneath to key the spurt.
Both teams struggled to find any offensive rhythm to start the second half as defenses dominated the first half of the third quarter.
Fowlkes finally ended the scoring drought with a layup for the Lady Cats with 3:55 left in the period that put her team up 20-18.
It was a lead Three Rivers would never relinquish the rest of the night.
Dixon drained a three-pointer with 1:38 left in the period to bring the Lady Eddies back within one, 24-23.
Miller hit a mid-range jumper and converted a layup to put Three Rivers up 28-23 entering the final eight minutes.
Zarycki came up with a pair of steals and layups to bring Edwardsburg back within one, 28-27 with 7:33 left in the game.
Miller scored inside to put the Lady Cats up 30-27 after an Eddies’ turnover.
A triple by Krause and Fowlkes layup helped the Lady Cats expand their lead to 35-27 with 4:53 remaining.
Edwardsburg’s Brayden Curtis hit two free throws to make it 35-29.
But Three Rivers’ Hawkins knocked down a pull-up jumper from eight feet to increase her team’s advantage to 37-29 with 3:47 showing.
Zarycki led one last charge by the Lady Eddies by draining a jump shot and free throw that left her ballclub down by just five, 37-32, with 2:03 left.
Fowlkes banked a running jumper in off the glass and Miller made two key free-throw attempts in the waning seconds to seal up the win.
Scott Hassinger can be reached at 279-7488 ext. 25 or firstname.lastname@example.org.