EAST LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) – All season long, the Portland girls basketball team has been powered by the play of Ashley Bower, Ava Guilford and Ava Gruber. It’s what lead the Raiders to the Division 2 state title game against Newaygo.
All three played their role to perfection in Saturday’s title game, and it’s one of the reason why Portland was able to take down Newaygo, 52-32, and claim its first-ever state title.
Another reason the Raiders can call themselves ‘state champs’ is because of the play from Alivia Densmore. The junior forward scored 12 points, one of three Raiders in double-figures, including a pair of buzzer-beaters.
With :01.9 seconds left in the first quarter, Densmore knocked down a shot before the horn, giving Portland a 10-9 lead. Then with time ticking down in the second quarter, Densmore beat the buzzer, again, giving the Raiders an eight-point lead at halftime.
“Liv is such a great athlete. When she is doing things like that, it just makes us so much better and so much harder to defend,” Portland coach, Jason Haid said. “Just so proud of her because she stepped up big the last two games, and she never gets the credit she really deserves. She’s such a talented kid – I’m proud of her.”
“Coach always talks about how each game is an opportunity for someone to step up, and she really stepped up for us tonight,” Guilford said. “We needed that so much. I’m really thankful she was able to do that for us.”
The momentum of Densmore’s second buzzer-beater carried into the second half. The Raiders started the third quarter on a 9-0 run, which forced Newaygo to take a timeout.
Behind a game-high 20 points from Bower, Portland would coast the rest of the way to claim the Division 2 crown.
“It’s crazy, it doesn’t even feel real yet. I can’t even believe it. I’m super excited,” Densmore said.
“There’s a lot of emotions. It feels great to win a state championship, and I’m just so proud of our team, and what we’ve been able to accomplish this year,” Bower said. “I’m also sad because that was our last game this year and the last game with our seniors.”
“I’m going to miss our seniors so much. They’ve led us so much, and they’ve been able to guide us our whole way,” Guilford said. “I’m very thankful for them.”
Portland will graduate three seniors, which includes Gruber, who has done everything that’s been asked of her, since she entered the program.
“She led us in scoring as a freshman. Now she’s fifth in scoring on our team. Everybody is so selfless, they don’t really care who is scoring, on any given night, and Ava took that as what her role was on the team,” Haid said. “Her teammates knew ‘hey, this girl used to score all of our points, and now she’s just distributing.’ Everybody fell into their role because our leader was willing to do that.”
Gruber finished with four points, three assists and two steals, and Guilford added 12 points to the total.
Next season, Portland returns four starters, and will be looking to make it back-to-back state titles.