Even though the Portland girls basketball team ended the regular season with a 5-15 record, junior Olivia Sandborn still felt her ball club was flying under the radar.
“From the beginning of the season, we’ve been saying that everyone is underestimating us,” she said.
Throw in the fact that the Raiders dropped seven straight games to end the regular season, it sounds like Sandborn had been living in a false reality for much of the year. But she hasn’t been, and the junior’s assessment of her team has proved to be true since the high school basketball postseason kicked off last week.
Portland, which finished last in the CAAC White this season, continued to turn heads Tuesday night as it defeated conference rival Eaton Rapids, 43-38, in a Class B regional semifinal matchup at Don Johnson Fieldhouse.
The win sets up a regional title showdown on Thursday with conference champion No. 3-ranked Williamston, which defeated Grand Rapids South Christian, 57-36, in the following semifinal game.
“We just wanted to take out everything that we have in (the postseason), and I think that’s really what we’re doing,” said Sandborn, who had a game-high 13 points. “I think we’re proving everyone wrong.
“I think we’re all kind of shocked, but we’ve been playing tough. We’ve been playing better as a team lately, and it’s been really good. It’s been a really good run.”
The Raiders (8-15) knocked off one of the Lansing area’s hottest teams in the Greyhounds (14-9), who came into the postseason having won nine of their last 10 games. Eaton Rapids defeated Portland twice during the regular season by a combined 28 points, but first-year Raiders coach Jason Heid said his team came into the regional tournament believing it could do something special.
“There’s a focus we haven’t seen in quite some time, and it’s come at the right time,” Haid said. “I think Portland girls always play with a chip on their shoulder. Portland’s always had success, but we only have a couple of returners from last year. Long before I got here, this program has been built to win. These girls know nothing other than to win.”
Sandborn scored Portland’s first eight points in the opening quarter and helped them take an 11-5 lead into the second. The Raiders broke the game open with an 11-3 run at the beginning of the second quarter, which was ignited by a 3-pointer from senior Jorie Rutkowski, who added nine points.
Eaton Rapids was able to get its deficit down to six points toward the end of the first half when a basket by Paige Boden, who finished with eight points, sparked a 10-2 spurt. But Portland closed the half strong and took a 10-point lead into the locker room.
The Greyhounds were never able to recover from the Raiders’ emphatic start, as they didn’t get the contest to within six points until the final seconds. Coach Becky Sutton believes the early run was where the game was lost.
“It’s nothing against my team, we had a an outstanding second half of the season … but, tonight, the words that kept coming to my mind were ‘heart’ and ‘hunger’,” she said. “It’s not saying that we don’t have heart, but those are the things – those intangibles. They beat us to loose balls, they out-rebounded us, I’m sure, and they were up in the passing lanes.
“They looked fresh, and they played hard.”
Senior Lauren Russell scored eight points for Portland.
Eaton Rapids senior Anne-Marie Wright scored a team-high 10 points, and freshman Peyton Benjamin added nine points.
Contact James L. Edwards III at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @JLEdwardsIII.