Early and often.
That’s how Warren Cousino junior Kierra Fletcher scored — and her teammates followed right along to build an unsurmountable 11-0 lead over Hudsonville on the way to the Patriots’ Class A semifinal win, 60-45, Friday afternoon at the Breslin Center.
“I felt we set the tone early on, as far as defensively, and it helps when you hit your first four shots that you take,” Cousino coach Mike Lee said. “Kate (McArthur) set the tone, especially from the outside range, and then Kierra set the tone on the inside part of it.
“When Kate gets hot early, it’s going to be a good day for us.”
Indeed, a good day for Fletcher as well.
Her 37 points tied for third all-time in a state semifinal game. She went 14-for-20 from the field and 9-for-13 at the free throw line, then added nine rebounds with five assists.
“She’s a human press breaker and one of the best free throw shooters,” Lee said. “She has a good jumper, but you would never know it because she doesn’t really take them because she’s always driving to the hole and looking for her teammates. She can find that girl on the weak-side block. The most unselfish player for somebody of her caliber.”
Fletcher said part of the Patriots’ motivation was their identity.
“We came into the tournament, we knew that we were sleepers and we just wanted to prove to everyone in the state wrong, because half of Michigan calls our school Casino, or Coosino,” she said. “So we’re happy that we’re getting Cousino on the map.”
With a 21-8 lead after one quarter and a 32-18 halftime edge, the early spurt held up. Cousino did climb to a 20-point lead in the third when Hudsonville went scoreless for five minutes, before a solid fourth quarter when it scored 18 points. Shaina DenBesten led Hudsonville (23-4) with 15 points, while Chloe Guingrich added 12.
“I just wanted to come out and get an early lead on them because we knew they have great post (players) and we didn’t want to get down in the game,” Fletcher said.
Both Lee and Fletcher credited freshmen McArthur and Mackenzie Cook for the early spurt as well, with their combined four triples in the first half.
“They’re two of the best freshmen in Michigan in my opinion,” Fletcher said. “Kate can knock down threes left and right. Cook can knock down the jumper and she’s quick and can take you on the first step.”
Cousino (23-4) has only one senior on the team, Mackenzie Anderson, who sat more than normal due to foul trouble.
“Even though this may be the farthest we’ve gotten, I think the years before have prepared me to help the younger kids get situated,” Anderson said. “Since we do have a fairly young team, a lot of people thought that since we don’t have that senior enthusiasm in the playoffs, maybe we would lack a little bit.”
That didn’t happen, so the Patriots get their first shot at a state championship.