By Kevin Lopez
MUSKEGON – In the opening round of the National Junior College Athletic Association tournament, the Raiders were able to walk away with a road victory against Muskegon Community College, 53-44, in a defensive battle on Tuesday, March 7.
With this victory the Raiders advance in the tournament and will face the top ranked 23-3, Jackson College.
The first quarter against Muskegon was a back and forth affair with neither team letting up. The defensive intensity was high between both teams as they forced each other to shoot poorly from the field.
Marlene Bussler, a sophomore guard, was calm and cool as she controlled the tempo and pace, while also splashing home two 3-pointers that fired up her squad as they took the lead in the first quarter, 14-13.
In the second quarter, it all belonged to GRCC who completely dismantled the Jayhawks as they did not make any field goals in the quarter, going 0-18 from the field and shooting a disgusting 0-10 from behind the arc.
While for the Raiders, Grace Lodes, a sophomore forward, once again showed her dominance by scoring seven points in the quarter and also grabbing four rebounds.
In the last 40 seconds of the quarter, the Raiders just wanted it more as Karissa Ferry, a sophomore forward, hustled for an offensive rebound and immediately dished it off to Lodes for a basket, while Sally Merril, a sophomore forward, splashed home a 3-pointer that made the bench scream in joy as the Raiders took the lead going into the half, 33-16.
Coming out of halftime, the Raiders were looking to continue the momentum they built in the second quarter, but it seemed the Jayhawks were ready to mount a comeback as they were able to force GRCC to shoot 13% from the field.
With the Raiders struggling on offense that allowed the Jayhawks to go on a 10-4 run that brought them as close as 10 points, but it still wasn’t enough as the Raiders put in work in the paint and drew fouls that gave them five points from the free throw line to keep the lead, 43-31.
Finally, in the fourth quarter with both teams’ seasons on the line, it was GRCC that came out on top. Despite the Jayhawks outscoring the Raiders in the quarter, it wasn’t enough as the lead was too much for there to be any comeback.
Emersyn Koepke, a sophomore guard, was the spark for the Raiders to keep the lead in GRCC’s favor as she scored five points in the quarter with a timely 3-pointer and nice floater in the lane to keep Muskegon at bay.
With the buzzer sounding, and the Raiders taking the win 53-44, there was nothing left to do but celebrate as the team all lept into each other’s arms at center court and jumped up and down in celebration.
GRCC’s head coach Dave Glazier said he was proud of how his team handled the pressure.
“Oh man, I’m just so proud of these kids,” Glazier said. “They had effort all year, they work hard. They are built for this type of game.”
Bussler led the team in scoring with 15 points and was over the moon with the win.
“It feels great,” Bussler said. “We wanted this. We’re the better team. We knew we had to bring the energy. Honestly I started hot and I think it helped the energy throughout and our whole team played well.”
The win gives the Raiders the opportunity to win the whole tournament as they take on Jackson College in the semi-finals at 6:30 p.m on Thursday, March 9 at the newly renovated Ballenger Fieldhouse in Flint.