| Special to Detroit Free Press
Hudsonville entered the fourth quarter of Friday’s Michigan high school girls basketball Division 1 final having done to Detroit Renaissance what the Phoenix had done to everyone else in the playoffs.
The Eagles were dominating Renaissance and carried a 14-point lead into the final eight minutes of the season.
And then it all changed.
The first 11 Hudsonville possessions of the fourth ended in either a turnover (nine) or a missed shot (two) as Renaissance stormed back to within two points. And then, with 2:44 left to play, Hudsonville’s Alaina Diaz was fouled and went to the free throw line.
Her team hadn’t scored in what seemed like two hours, but she wasn’t nervous … she said.
“I’m just used to the pressure because at practice we usually have pressure free throws,” the junior said. “And I was thinking I had to do it for my family — my teammates. I got to do what I got to do.”
She did just that and more.
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Diaz made both free throws, the first of eight she made in the final period, to give Hudsonville a heart-stopping 65-61 victory over Renaissance to claim the state championship.
It was nearly a heart-stomping loss for Hudsonville (23-1), though, as it committed 12 of its 27 turnovers in the final quarter.
In Wednesday’s quarterfinal win, Renaissance (13-5) forced Wayne into 36 turnovers.
“Obviously at the end, it’s not our plan to turn the ball over like that, but we called a timeout,” Hudsonville coach Casey Glass said. “We talked about Wayne Memorial had 36 turnovers and they were still in the game at the end of the game.
“Yeah, we turned the ball over, but when the time came and it counted, we had big kids step up, and in big situations.”
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Hudsonville built its 14-point lead after junior Jaci Tubergen had the third quarter of a lifetime, scoring 17 points, including 11 straight.
“Our team works a lot on driving and kicking,” she said. “We had a couple of good attacks and then people are forced to help and then we had shooters on the outside and good floor spacing and I thought my teammates did a good job of attacking and drawing defenders.”
For the game, the 6-foot Tubergen hit 11 of 19 shots, including a 5-for-8 day from 3-point range, for 28 points. She tried saying she had no idea she was scoring all those points.
“Well,” she said, laughing, “I knew I was scoring, but we try not to get too high and try not to get too low and don’t let our emotions get to us doing the game.”
She made mincemeat of Renaissance’s defensive plan, mixing in 3-point bombs with effective drives and cuts to the basket.
“Tubergen did a great job of being patient against us and she hit a lot of shots,” Renaissance coach Shane Lawal said. “We really stretched trying to find her in in transition. You can’t lose Tubergen. She’s got a methodical pace where she doesn’t fully rush.”
The rest of her teammates tried to rush things, especially in the fourth quarter as they were holding on against Renaissance’s press.
For a moment, it looked like the Phoenix might press its way to another victory, like it did against Wayne.
“The only different thing was, like I’ve said with the press, eventually it starts to get to you,” Lawal said. “When it started to get to them, I think we had a few chances after we turned them over or we got them to take a kind of rushed shot that would lead to a rebound that would lead to a fast break.
“We weren’t able to convert like we were able to convert Wednesday.”
The key play came when Renaissance got to within five points: The 5-6 Diaz blocked Kailee Davis’ 3-point attempt and then hit two free throws for a seven-point lead.
“I always just go for the ball,” Diaz said. “I guess I do whatever I can to help my team out.”
Davis led Renaissance with 26 points (on 9-for-24 shooting overall and 3-for-10 from 3-point range) and six turnovers.
Davis scored 10 of her points in the last quarter as Glass sat and watched his team’s lead evaporate.
“The big thing for us was to weather the storm,” said Glass. “We knew they were going to apply pressure. We knew there were going to be spurts during the game where we might not score and they might go on some runs.”
The Eagles were also hurt by Tubergen’s zero shots in the fourth quarter.
“We called a couple of plays, we called a couple of sets, but they did a great job of mixing up defenses,” Glass said. “Every time we thought we were going to have them in a man defense, they went to a zone press.”
But there is no defense against free throw shooters and that is where Diaz came through.
“I don’t think the game was ever slipping away . . . maybe for a couple of seconds,” she said. “But we all kept our heads high and kept trust in each other and knew we could do it. We fought with hearts and Glass says it always comes down to who has most heart.”
Mick McCabe is a former longtime columnist for the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @mickmccabe1. Save $10 on his new book, “Mick McCabe’s Golden Yearbook: 50 Great Years of Michigan’s Best High School Players, Teams & Memories,” by ordering right now at McCabe.PictorialBook.com