By Kevin Lopez
The Raiders were able to take care of business and defeat Glen Oaks Community College, 83-66, and win the Great Lakes B tournament championship on Saturday, March 11 in Flint.
Every single player on the Raiders contributed to the victory and because of how the team came together in the tournament they were able to make up for what happened after their defeat last year.
In the first quarter, it was Grace Lodes, a sophomore forward, who came out right away and established her dominance once again on both offense and defense.
Lodes was on a mission, fighting in the post, rolling to the basket, and taking advantage of her size and grabbing offensive rebounds that allowed her to score 10 points in the quarter, while shooting 100% from the field.
On the other side of the court, the Raiders forced the Vikings to shoot 26% from the field and only allowed 13 points in the quarter.
Lodes, the reigning Michigan Community College Athletic Association Western Conference Defensive Player of the Year, had two blocks and anchored the paint by deterring shots and inspiring fear in her opponents that helped them lead 17-13.
Moving into the second quarter, the Raiders kept up the offensive pressure on the Vikings as they continued to score baskets in the paint and splash home 3-pointers.
Emersyn Koepke, a sophomore guard, Sally Merrill, a sophomore forward, and Alyssa Katerburg, a sophomore forward, all splashed home a 3-pointer. Lodes continued to score inside the arc with seven points and blocked two shots.
Still, Glen Oaks was trying to get back in the game by scoring 18 points and making four 3-pointers of their own. They still trailed going into the half as the Raiders led 38-31.
The third quarter was where the Raiders completely took control of the game as they scored 29 points in the quarter on an efficient 59% shooting from the field. The team also assisted on nine of the 10 field goals the team had in the quarter.
The star for the Raiders was Sally Merrill, who scored 15 points in the quarter, along with three 3-pointers.
Merrill, who only had three points combined in the first two quarters, exploded in the third and came through for the Raiders once again as the Vikings had no answer and only scored 12 points on 20% from the field as GRCC continued to lead 67-43.
Finally, it was time for the fourth quarter and everything was favoring the Raiders as they had the lead and clock on their side. It was once again all about maintaining the lead.
Who better to lead the team than Marlene Bussler who once again showed her poise and leadership by orchestrating the offense and controlling the tempo to keep the Raiders calm and steady.
Merrill continued to score as she banged home two more 3-pointers and had eight points overall in the quarter.
Unfortunately for the Vikings, they had their best quarter of the game scoring 23 points, but it was too little too late to mount a comeback as the Raiders cruised to the final buzzer and walked away with the victory.
Throughout the game, each player played a role that led to the championship, with Merrill heating up in the third, Lodes having her hot start in the first, Bussler dishing out the assists, Kellogg being a steady scoring option, Koepke being the inspiring spark plug, Katerburg spreading the floor, and Ferry creating opportunities with her hustle.
It was an inspiring victory and all the players celebrated with their families as “We are the Champions” by Queen played in the background.
GRCC’s head coach Dave Glazier was very happy with how the season ended.
“Extremely proud of this group top to bottom,” Glazier said. “Each one has an understanding of their role, how to perform that role to the best of their abilities, and then give us more when the opportunity presents itself.”
Lodes, who finished the game with 27 points and 15 rebounds along with six blocks, and Bussler had a near double-double 12 assists and nine rebounds were named to the All Tournament Team.
While Merrill finished the game with 28 points, seven rebounds and five assists was also named to the All Tournament Team and crowned MVP of the tournament.
“I’m definitely super happy and loving every second,” Merrill said. “It feels great to rewrite the story from when we were here last year. We worked hard for this and deserve every second.”
Glazier was grateful for the sophomores who helped them win the championship.
“A special hats off to our sophomores who have believed from day one that they could earn a trip to nationals,” Glazier said. “They have cemented their legacy with this program!”
With this win the Raiders earned a berth in the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II National Tournament that begins on Tuesday, March 21 at 6 p.m. They will play at the SC4 Fieldhouse in Port Huron against an undetermined opponent.