Dowagiac girls beat Benton Harbor to advance to first district title game since 2008

Published 7:48 am Thursday, March 3, 2022

BERRIEN SPRINGS — Down 13-4 early in the second quarter, the prospects of the Dowagiac girls basketball team advancing in the district tournament looked dim as Berrien Springs High School Wednesday.

But as they have done often lately, the Chieftains stormed back to take a halftime lead and eventually hold off the Tigers, 35-31, for their sixth consecutive win and first appearance in the Division 2 District championship since 2008.

“They do that to me so much, it’s like a saying for our girls is ‘why did you do that to me?’” said Dowagiac Coach Jason Turner, of fighting back from large deficits. “It’s not only good for these girls, it’s good for the future of our program.”

Sophomore Maggie Weller finished with a game-high 21 points and four rebounds, including 12 points during the second-quarter run. She also hit the game-tying shot with 5:40 left in the fourth quarter, and routinely broke the Benton Harbor full-court pressure.

“Maggie had a heck of a game … a great performance from our sophomore,” Turner said. “But all around, it was our defensive effort that turned that game around. It was the tips and steals that Makayla [Hill] and Josie [Lock] and Maggie and Calley [Ruff] at the top, and Audrey [Johnson] and Alanah [Smith] down low against their big girl.”

The Chieftain defense held Benton Harbor scoreless for the final six minutes, and while 6-foot-4 Desrae Kyles had 18 points for Benton Harbor (11-8), Dowagiac (8-13) made things difficult for her, contesting entry passes and fighting for rebounds. Smith had seven points and seven rebounds for Dowagiac, while Johnson also had seven rebounds. Hill finished with five rebounds and the game-winning 3-pointer.

“Makayla has been coming through big time lately, knocking down some tough shots,” Turner said. “She was a little out of control to start the first half, but we talked to her at halftime, and she came back looking more like herself.”

The team’s six-game win streak is double the number of wins the Chieftains recorded over the previous two seasons. After starting this season 2-13, the Chieftains are now rolling at the right time.

“I’m just proud of these girls,” Turner said. “My two seniors, Makayla and Calley, they’ve been through a lot with our program. I’m so happy for those two especially, and I’m really happy for the community of Dowagiac.”

Dowagiac takes on the South Haven in the championship game at 7 p.m.  Friday at Berrien Spings High School. The Chieftains defeated South Haven 29-25 in overtime Feb. 21.

“We’re going to enjoy it tonight,” Turner said. “Then, we’re going to come back tomorrow ready to go and prep for whoever wins.”