EAST LANSING — Rickea Jackson had a special few days at the Breslin Center.
The Detroit Edison sophomore guard, who celebrated a Class C semifinal victory Thursday on her 16th birthday, played an important role in today’s state final, helping the Pioneers beat Pewamo-Westphalia, 46-44, to win the program’s first state crown.
“This is really unbelievable,” said Jackson, who finished with 21 points and nine rebounds. “It was the most beautiful moment of my life. Nothing can take this feeling away from me.”
Saturday’s final capped an incredible journey for the Pioneers (21-5), who began a girls basketball program six years ago and had never won a district title before this season. Edison’s roster includes two juniors, one sophomore and nine freshmen.
“Our school is known for the academic portion, not necessarily athletics,” said Edison coach/athletic director Monique Brown. “For our team to crack the seal is overwhelming. It’s mind-boggling.”
Edison nearly let a nine-point fourth-quarter lead slip away to the Pirates (24-3), who last played in a girls basketball state final in 1984.
Holding a one-point lead with 1.6 seconds left, Edison freshman Gabrielle Elliott hit a free throw, but missed the second. Jackson collected the rebound as the clock expired.
Pewamo-Westphalia used a 7-0 run late in the fourth, capped by Emily Spitzley’s layup, to get within 45-44 with 1:20 remaining. The Pirates had several chances to take the lead down the stretch, but Edison’s defense held strong.
Edison freshman Shaulana Wagner blocked a three-point attempt by Hannah Spitzley with 3.4 seconds left. Emily Spitzley then lost the ball out of bounds with 2 seconds left, giving it back to Edison.
“Man, I don’t know where (Wagner) came from,” Brown said of the blocked shot. “I saw (Hannah Spitzley) shooting in the corner, and I was like, ‘No, no, no.’ That was awesome, and our defense was even better.”
With no graduating seniors, the Pioneers expect to make another championship run next season.
“We’re only going to get better; we’re not going to get worse,” Jackson said. “Everyone comes to practice, works hard, works their butt off. We have so much determination and so many big hearts. We don’t like when people say we can’t do something. That pushes us to do more.”
Wagner finished with 12 points and five rebounds for Edison, which built a 26-19 halftime lead.
“The crowd started cheering, and that’s when our youth kicked in,” Brown said of the closing minutes. “We were able to hold that lead. As long as they didn’t take the lead, we were fine. That’s what I preached to my young girls.”
It was a tough ending for Pewamo-Westphalia. Hannah Spitzley had 17 points and Emily Spitzley scored 15.
“It’s amazing how your whole season comes down to, I don’t know, just under 4 seconds,” Pewamo-Westphalia coach Steve Eklund said. “I tell the girls, no regrets. You’ll have people come up and tell you how awesome of a game that was.”