By Steve Gunn

MORLEY – The Western Michigan Christian girls basketball team, talented but young, learned two fundamental lessons on Tuesday about playing good teams in the state tournament:

WMC’s Kyla Wiersema goes in for a layup during first-quarter action. Photo/Jason Goorman

Take care of the basketball and avoid foul trouble, particularly to key players.

Unfortunately for the Warriors, there were too many turnovers, and Kyla Wiersema, their leading scorer on the night, fouled out in the fourth quarter.

WMC never quit and made the game close toward the end, but lost 44-35 to Ithaca a Division 3 regional semifinal game at Morley-Stanwood High School.

The Warriors finished the season with a 17-7 record.

The good news for WMC is that most of the team will return next season. That means that the experience gained by this year’s squad, which won a Division 3 district title last week, will prove very valuable.

“I’ll take a district championship,” said WMC Coach Jeremy Goorman about this season’s success, and prospects for 2020-21. “We will have everybody coming back except three seniors. We will have three starters back. I’m looking forward to it.”

WMC looked strong in the first quarter, taking a 12-10 lead at the first buzzer behind six points from Wiersema. But Ithaca pulled ahead for good in the second quarter, outscoring WMC 12-2 and taking a 22-15 halftime lead.

The Warriors started the second quarter with four turnovers in the first two minutes, and ended up committing eight in the quarter and 18 in the game.

“We kind of ebbed and flowed this year with turnovers,” Coach Goorman said. “Toward the end of the year we got it down to about 15 (per game), then in districts it went up again. If you don’t shoot it, you’re not going to score.

“Hat’s off to Ithaca’s defense. They held every team this year to under 40 points except Hemlock. I thought if we could score 40 or more we might win the game.”

Taylor Folkema waits to make a move as teammate Kayla Johnson gets set to make a pick for WMC. Photo/Jason Goorman

The Yellowjackets got hot from three-point range in the third quarter, sinking three and taking a 35-24 lead headed into the fourth.

But the Warriors kept pushing and made Ithaca earn the victory.

Greta VanderHeide led off the fourth quarter with a three-point play, hitting a layup and sinking a free throw to make the score 35-27. Then Wiersema had a steal and layup, making it a 35-29 game just one minute into the fourth.

Kalcea Waller hit a putback with about five minutes left, then Taylor Folkema nailed a bucket with 4:27 remaining, pulling WMC within five points, 38-33.

But Ithaca outscored the Warriors 6-2 down the stretch to clinch the win.

The Warriors hurt themselves by missing four free throws in the second half. They also lost a big part of their attack when Wiersema fouled out with about four minutes left in the game. She led WMC with 10 points on the night.

WMC was frustrated by Ithaca’s outside shooting. The Yellowjackets his seven triples in the game, and seemed to come up with one at key points throughout the game.

An off night by junior standout Taylor Folkema, the Warriors leading scorer, also complicated things. Folkema averages around 19 points per game, but was held to nine on Tuesday.

“I couldn’t put my thumb on it,” Goorman said about his talented junior. “I think she was in a rush, I think she forced things a little more than usual, and didn’t drive as much. Part of that was because of the defense, too. They got to her a little bit. When she doesn’t score, we’re in trouble.”

Samantha Vermeesch scored 14 points for Ithaca, including three triples. Delaney Seaman added 13 points, include three shots from three-point range.