TRAVERSE CITY — A grade A defensive effort led to Gaylord's first girls basketball Class A district title in school history on Friday.
The Blue Devils earned the crown with a 31-26 overtime victory over host Traverse City West, holding the Titans to three points in the game's final 8:54.
Despite giving up a lot of size to West's front line, Gaylord was able to stymie the Titans for stretches and capitalize at the right time, outscoring West 5-0 in overtime.
"We haven't won districts in I don't even know how long," said senior guard Mackenzie Edwards, who led the Devils with 15 points. "I never thought we'd make it this far and we did. I'm really excited."
The Blue Devils (13-9) face undefeated Grand Haven in regionals Tuesday back at TC West. The Bucs are the reigning Class A state champions, and defeated Muskegon 52-33 to win their district.
"We're playing on house money," Blue Devils coach Frank Hamilla said. "We won our district and now we're going to go and give it all we've got in regionals and see what happens."
West's Kiley Kreple knocked down a 3-pointer from the right wing at the buzzer to send the game into overtime.
"We thought that they thought that we would not go to her," Titans coach Dave Ginsberg said. "So we said, 'Find her, lob the ball over to her.'"
Kreple received the long, cross-court inbounds pass, looked down to make sure her feet were behind the 3-point line and launched a triple that caught nothing but net and sent the game into an extra session.
"We just had to forget about it and go on to overtime," said Edwards, who has accepted an offer to play at Lake Superior State University. "And we got the job done."
"They were just deflated," Hamilla said of his players after Kreple's buzzer-beater. "We said, 'Hey, we've got four more minutes to play. Let's get the lead right away and we'll be OK.'"
And the Blue Devils did just that. All five of the Blue Devils' overtime points came at the free throw line, with Simmons and Edwards hitting two each and Sarah Polena one.
Gaylord held West (10-13) without a score in the four-minute overtime, and hit 5 of 8 free throws in the stanza.
The Devils made the most of their time at the free throw line for the whole game, outscoring West 15-3 in that area and knocking down 15 of 22 foul shots. West was 3 for 6 at the stripe.
The teams split their regular-season matchups, with each winning on their home court.
"They're crafty, quick, clever, well-coached," Ginsberg said. "They just did a good job of keeping us out of scoring spots. We just made a lot of bad judgments. We really didn't make good decisions at key points of that game. Our defense was terrific. They hurt us over there the last time we played them. And we did a much better job on them (this time)."
Both teams started slow, with Gaylord holding a 4-2 lead after one quarter. The Devils took a 10-4 lead on two Lauren Hintz free throws before the Titans responded with an 8-0 run to lead 14-10 and eventually took a 16-12 lead into halftime.
"That's a trademark of West," Hamilla said. "Even when (Patti) Tibaldi was coach, they played great defense. And it's carried over with coach Ginsburg. You know it was going to be a struggle and it would be in the 30s. That's what Traverse City West wanted. We wanted to try to pick up the tempo a little, but they do such a nice job on possessions of taking time off the clock. We did what we had to do — and fortunately we were able to get the victory."
West took a 21-19 lead into the final quarter of regulation, as Katie Placek's long jumper put West up.
"We tried to spread the floor," Hamilla said. "They were doing such a good job of doubling Mac when she got the ball. But truthfully, we won the game on the defensive end."
Prior to Kreple's game-tying three, West's only field goal of the fourth quarter was a long two-pointer by Lauren Ellison that was the first field goal by either team over three minutes into the fourth.
"Our defense helped a lot," Edwards said. "We were boxing out a lot and they weren't able to get second and third shots. That's what helped us win."
Placek led West with 11 points and nine rebounds, while Kreple finished with seven points.
Polena had eight points and seven steals for the Blue Devils, while Chelsea Fox led Gaylord in rebounding with five.