The last time the Williamston girls basketball program won a regional title, 10th-year coach Pete Cool was a year removed from his graduation at Eastern High School, taking classes at nearby Lansing Community College.
On top of that, not one player on his 10-person roster was born — or probably even thought of at that point.
The Hornets last hoisted a regional championship trophy in 1993, and that 24-year drought came to an end Thursday night.
Class B No. 3-ranked Williamston will continue its run to the Breslin Center after defeating CAAC White rival Portland, 52-29, in a regional championship game at Eastern High School.
“It’s kind of surreal,” said junior forward Allison Peplowski, who has helped the Hornets (23-1) post a 61-7 record throughout her three years on varsity. “I told coach (Doug) Bradshaw the other day, I said, ‘This year feels different.’ We’ve always had this team, we’ve always been good, we’ve always played good teams, had a good record, and have been ranked in the state ever since I got here.
“It feels great. Obviously, the first two years we got knocked out by two really good teams — teams that went to the state championship game. It feels great. I’m thrilled to play in the quarterfinals.”
Even though Cool’s ball club returned several pieces from last season’s team that was eliminated in the regional semifinals, he wasn’t sure how far this unit could go at the beginning of the year.
“This is a great group of girls, but we had no idea what to expect,” he said. “We have six girls that never played varsity ball before, four of them are freshmen. We’re absolutely thrilled.”
Williamston was able to run away with the victory thanks to solid defense from its guards and a well-balanced scoring attack. Freshman Kenzie Lewis, who had seven steals, and junior Maddie Watters, who had three steals, were the spearheads of the Hornets’ full-court press. Watters scored a game-high 13 points, while senior Elana Lycos pitched in with 12 points. Peplowski added 11 points and 11 rebounds.
The Raiders (8-16) came into Thursday’s game as the Lansing area’s Cinderella team. Portland made its way to the regional title game after posting a 5-15 record during the regular season, which included seven straight losses to end the year.
Led by a strong first quarter from junior Olivia Sandborn, who scored seven points, the Raiders led the Hornets, 11-8, midway through the first quarter. But two straight buckets from Lycos allowed Williamston to close the quarter on an 8-2 run.
Portland was able to stay stride-for-stride with the CAAC White champions until Watters ended the first half by scoring all seven of the Hornets’ points during a 7-2 spurt to close the second quarter.
The Raiders were held to just three field goals in the second half, and first-year coach Jason Haid said early foul trouble derailed the offensive momentum his team had going through the first eight minutes of the game.
“Sandborn got her second foul (early), Shelby Battley got her second foul … those two girls right there are our two best defenders,” Haid added. “We feed off of our defense, and when we weren’t getting those stops, it kind of hurt our offense a little bit.”
Lesley Barker added seven points for Portland.
Lewis scored six points for Williamston.
Contact James L. Edwards III at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JLEdwardsIII.