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Fremont rallies from slow start to capture first girls district basketball title since 2009

Packers notch 20th win with 49-40 victory over Grant, get rematch with Spring Lake in Monday’s regional.

Photos by Scott DeCamp | CatchMark

NEWAYGO — It generally takes Fremont’s girls basketball team a while to get going. It’s been a theme all season.

But once the Packers got going in the second half of Friday night’s Division 2 district final at Newaygo High School, they rode that wave to another history-making victory.

Fremont rallied past Grant, 49-40, for the first girls district basketball championship for the program since 2009. It’s the first time since 1978 that the Packers girls have captured conference and district titles in the same season. Fremont’s 20 wins are the most for the program in a season since the 1978 squad collected 23 victories.

“We are notorious for getting off to slow starts — all season long — but we took it to a new level tonight,” said Peter Zerfas, who is in his first season coaching the Packers girls after his tenure leading the boys program. “We didn’t score until 1:30 or so to go in the first quarter and trailed 11-1. In the second quarter, we made some shots and trailed 20-11 at half. 

“We talked at halftime, if any team can come back after a bad start, it’s us,” Zerfas said. “As we started to score, our full-court pressure picked up, the huge crowd of Fremont faithful got loud and momentum went our way. We took a brief lead in the third, but Grant scored to end the quarter and we were tied going into the fourth.”

Fremont (20-4), which cruised to the outright West Michigan Conference Lakes Division crown with a 12-0 divisional record, gets a rematch with Spring Lake (17-6) in Monday’s 7 p.m. regional semifinal at Sparta. Spring Lake, which rolled past Fruitport 55-17 in Friday’s district final, won at Fremont 54-32 in the season opener on Dec. 5.

“We lost to Spring Lake in the first game of the season. In the locker room after (that) game, I told the girls if they worked hard, worked together and if they trusted what I was going to teach and coach them, we would see Spring Lake again in regionals. Not sure they believed me then, but here we come.”

Friday was Fremont’s second tight victory over Grant this season. The Packers beat the Tigers, 47-41, in a nonleague game on Jan. 17 at Fremont.

Grant closes the season with a 15-7 record.

The Packers punched their ticket to the regional despite playing without junior starting guard Mia Clemence, who suffered a lower leg/foot injury in practice this week, and losing junior forward Khaila Noordyk during the third quarter Friday. Noordyk, who suffered an apparent knee injury, provided a big lift earlier in the game with her hustle and intensity.

“Grant got a couple buckets early in the fourth, but momentum was ours and we outscored them 20-11 (in the quarter),” Zerfas said.

Senior Jessica Bennett notched a triple-double for Fremont with 16 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 blocks. The 6-foot wing made three 3-pointers and went 5-of-6 at the free-throw line.

Junior Riley Chase was her active and aggressive self with 12 points and eight steals for the Packers. Poised freshman Taylor DeKuiper, who never left the game, approached triple-double numbers with nine points, 12 rebounds, and seven steals. Noordyk contributed six points and six rebounds before her injury.

“Our girls are just resilient and have no quit,” Zerfas said. “I am so proud of them for not giving up or hanging their heads when we were down at least 14 points early. We have so many that contributed throughout the game. 

“Riley Chase was again huge just like Wednesday (17 points and eight steals in a 45-32 win over Sparta). Taylor DeKuiper scored seven of her nine in the fourth quarter and Jessica Bennett is just clutch. She had eight of her 16 in the fourth, including a 27-foot 3-point shot after Grant scored mid-fourth. She is fearless.”

One of the big storylines in the game was foul trouble for Grant senior Julie Ashbaugh. The Tigers’ all-time leading girls scorer with more than 1,100 career points managed only two on a third-quarter bucket. Ashbaugh was saddled with foul trouble throughout the game. She picked up two in the first quarter and finished with four fouls in the contest.

Senior Isabella Welch paced Grant with 14 points, while junior Reese Gragg had seven and junior Jocee Pleune six.

Lead writer for CatchMark SportsNet and Web Services leader for CatchMark Technologies.

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