EAST LANSING – The luck o’ the Irish was alive and well at the Breslin Center on St. Patrick’s Day.
The Mt. Pleasant Sacred Heart Irish (24-1) will try to replicate their 2014 Class D state title with a second in three years after hanging on to beat Stephenson, 45-38, in Thursday’s second Class D semifinal in East Lansing.
For seniors Averi Gamble and Megan English, twice could be just as nice.
“Winning a state championship was like the best moment in my life, thus far,” Gamble said about her sophomore season. “Just the fact that I can come back here twice is just, like overwhelming. I know how it feels already and it’s just so exciting that I can do it twice.”
To win that title, the Irish need to lay it on the line against No. 1 Pittsford, which lost in overtime last season to state champ St. Ignace.
“I think it will be a good match up,” Irish coach Damon Brown said about Pittsford. “Defensively we’ll do some things that present some problems for them. We’ve been going back and forth all year, top of the rankings, and I think this is probably the matchup most people would want to see.”
Gamble led Sacred Heart with 13 points, including 7-for-9 free throw shooting. Scout Nelson and Sophie Ruggles added 10 each. Karley Johnson led Stephenson (24-3) with 12.
After jumping out to a 14-11 first-quarter lead on 6-for-11 shooting (including two made 3-pointers), Stephenson’s shooting percentage dropped off the radar in the second quarter, to just 3-for-16. At one point the Eagles went five minutes without scoring, and on one possession they missed five shots in a row from close range after offensive rebounds.
Sacred Heart didn’t fare much better in the second quarter, but did enough from the free throw line to take a 21-20 halftime edge. The Irish shot 8-for-10 from the stripe, but made only one shot from the field (6-for-24 for the first half), by Nelson as the halftime buzzer sounded.
“Overall, it’s a win,” Brown said. “We always look to get better. But when you come into games like this you’re always going to get a team’s best shot, and I think Stephenson really made us work tonight. One of the things I like about this team is we don’t flinch when we get in tight situations. We find a way to get it done.”
Sacred Heart will play Saturday in the state final against Pittsford,