By Dan Hardenbrook

As they filed in the doors of Little Caesars Arena in downtown Detroit—home of the Detroit Pistons—the Newberry boys and girls basketball teams didn’t know what to think. Some couldn’t believe they were even there. Others were overwhelmed with nerves and excitement. Many were in awe of what they were about to do.

As they made their way from the concourse into the arena, everyone’s eyes lit up under the bright lights of the NBA.

Matthew Rahilly, Newberry’s all-around star athlete, looked up — way up — as he began the descent down to the court. It seemed like the place never ended. Shaking his head, as the team made their way down to the floor, he described the moment as “ridiculous”.

“This place is crazy,” Rahilly said. “I can’t believe we are about to do this.”

The Lady Indians tipped off the doubleheader in Detroit, an atmosphere that Newberry’s Sophia Johnson also called “crazy”. International exchange students Lucie Rabochova, Elisa Rizzoli, and Paula Garcia snapped a few more photos from their already incredible journey this year, looking all the way up to the top of the massive pro sports palace.

Alazayah Depew and Allie Whalen shared smiles and laughs as they warmed up on the Pistons court. Coach Sarah Johnson reminded the girls to keep stretching and stay loose. It was going to be a battle, and the intensity would be at an all-time high in a place that can make you feel so small.

Once it was finally time to tip up against the Brimley Lady Bays, with Rabochova jumping for Newberry, it was clear the game was worth the hype. Brimley was a preseason favorite, and they arrived as the defending District Champions.

Meanwhile, the Lady Indians entered Little Caesars Arena at 3-0 on the season, with massive wins and a thrilling style of play that may make them the biggest challenger for the EUP Conference crown.

One Bally Sports Network employee preparing for that night’s Pistons game called it the best game he’s seen in the building all season. And that’s not just because the Pistons are historically bad. The two teams traded the lead multiple times, each going on big runs, creating incredible plays and knocking down big shots that delighted the fans and put them in a frenzy.

Nerves were high, and both coaches tried to settle their players down in a game that was also nervewracking to watch. In the end, the Bays had the final run and hit free throws (sometimes the hardest shot in a stadium set up of that size) to hang on tight and earn the win 39-34.

Newberry was led by another strong performance by Allie Whalen, while Rabochova continued her strong start to the season. Alazayah and Trenidy Depew, along with Sophia Johnson and Makennah Russell formed a guard group that battled Brimley’s decorated backcourt led by Autumn Tremblay and Cearra LeBlanc. Rizzoli and the rest of the Lady Indians frontcourt battled on the block for ever big play.

Both teams stay within single digits of each other the entire game, making every basket even more vital in an already amazing game.

The boys watched in awe, but with an almost incredible calm. They were ready, and the storm was about to come. For sophomore guard Kegan Martin, it started well before the team actually arrived in Detroit. The moment was on his mind last Tuesday, when the Indians played in tiny Eben Junction. The team struggled, scoring just 22 points in a loss to the Superior Central Cougars. The loss dropped them to 1-4 on the season, and that raised questions: Would they crumble under the pressure of playing on an NBA court?

Martin knew the team couldn’t do that. Not this time. Not in Detroit. It was his passion that helped spark the Indians to one of their greatest wins in recent memory, as they defeated the Brimley Bays 52-43.

“I was so pumped up all game, ” Martin exclaimed. “We lost that game two nights before, and I wanted to win so bad. I knew that in order to do that I had to bring the energy and get my teammates excited to play!”

It was Martin, and his energy, that sealed the deal, as he broke free on a fast break layup late in the contest to put away the win inside the Piston’s home arena. Martin was pumping his fist and jumping as he ran back down the floor, passing Head Coach Nate Moulton, who fist pumping right along with him.

“It felt really good to come out with the big win and me having a great game was a plus. I’ve been working hard all year and getting to prove that in a stadium felt amazing to do,” said Martin.

When the buzzer finally sounded, it still felt like a dream for a kid from a small U.P. town.

“It was an unreal experience and I thank everyone who helped us for the opportunity to go down there.” Martin said.