HOWARD CITY — Four out of the past five years, the Sparta Spartans girls basketball team has ended Tri County’s season in districts play.
On Wednesday, the Vikings looked to anything to buck the trend, including having their coach wear an ugly tie.
“I reverted back to wearing the tie from 1994 that I wore when I interviewed at Tri County,” laughed Vikings coach Chris Overbeek after his team won 46-33 to advance to the district finals against Grant Friday. “We were just looking for anything, any sort of competitive advantage, to change things up a little bit. I told the girls that it’s so ugly that this was just something for Sparta.”
Leading only 19-18 in the third quarter, after being up 17-10 at the end of the first quarter, the Vikings and their fans started feeling a little bit of deja vu.
That is until senior guard Ashley Bowen drained a 3-pointer with 1:05 to go in the quarter that seemed to give her team some new life.
“All game long and in time outs, I kept telling the girls to take a deep breath and relax,” Overbeek said. “I just felt like we were tight. And I really felt like when Ashley hit that 3-pointer, we kind of exhaled a little bit.”
After a defensive stop, the Vikings (14-7 overall) came back down and hit another 3-pointer, this time by junior guard Emma Overbeek, which opened up a whole new kind of confidence for the Vikings.
“When Emma made her 3-pointer, the girls felt then that, hey, an eight-point lead, we got this now,” the coach said. “That relaxed them a little bit more.”
For Bowen, she said her teammates started seeing the victory after that second third-quarter 3-pointer.
“It felt good to get those points back,” she said. “It gave us energy.”
The Vikings would outscore the Spartans 14-11 in the fourth quarter to clinch the win and earn a spot in the districts finals. Grant (10-12 overall) beat Newaygo, 44-29, also at Tri County, to advance.
Bowen said it was the team’s defense, particularly its full-court pressure, that helped overcome a poor offensive second quarter, in which the Vikings only scored two points.
“We were pressuring them on full court press and we were going harder and trying to trap the ball because in the first half we were kind of lenient,” said Bowen, who finished with a team-high 19 points. “So the next quarters, we went harder at it to force more turnovers.”
Overbeek gave credit to his post players, like junior Tricia Slavens who drew the defense in, giving her guards good looks at the basket.
“I just told the girls at halftime that we are shooting it too quick and I told them if we are going to shoot outside the ball is going to have to come from the inside and I really felt in the second half we did a great job of getting the ball to Tricia (Slavens) in the middle,” he said. “She’s such a good passer that she’s our leading assists girl on the year and that’s not very common for your post player.”
Bowen was happy to finally get a districts victory against rival Sparta.
“It feels good to beat them. I’ve only gotten to the district finals and lost to Sparta each time,” Bowen said. “It feels good because it pushes us for the next game and really gives us confidence.”
Ten players scored for the Vikings, with Bowen’s 19 points leading the way. She also collected seven rebounds, two steals, four assists and one block.
Vikings sophomore center Jessica Thompson scored three points, had seven rebounds and one block, while Slavens scored six points and grabbed four rebounds.
The Spartans were led by sophomore guard Delaney Armock, who finished with 12 points and four rebounds, followed by sophomore guard Marla Anderson with 10 points and four rebounds.
Sparta’s sophomore forward Jenna Hoover finished with six rebounds.
Friday’s district finals between Tri County and Grant will be held at 7 p.m. at Tri County.