EAST LANSING – With tears in his players’ eyes, Mike Lee tried to remain upbeat.
Following Warren Cousino’s 52-36 loss to Flushing in Friday’s Class A girls basketball semifinal, the Patriots’ coach focused on his team’s incredible achievements the past two years.
Cousino (24-3), the defending Class A state champion, had its 14-game postseason win streak snapped against Flushing (23-3) at Michigan State’s Breslin Center.
“It’s not going to be a pity party,” said Lee, who finished his eighth season at Cousino. “The stress these girls were under every single night; we were going to get everybody’s best effort. There was never really a chance to be a kid sometimes.
“We’re sad it’s over, (but) heck of a run this year. Tonight’s going to be a celebration, and we can exhale and enjoy each other.”
Patriots senior guard Kierra Fletcher, a Miss Basketball finalist and Georgia Tech signee, scored 30 points and had seven rebounds, but it wasn’t enough against the surging Raiders, who played in their first state semifinal game since 1976.
“I don’t think we overlooked Flushing,” Fletcher said. “At some point, nerves (became) a factor. Some of us weren’t ready, and we didn’t help each other. We put each other in bad situations, and then one thing led to another.”
Flushing advances to play East Kentwood (26-1) in Saturday’s noon championship at Breslin Center. The Raiders jumped out to a 19-10 lead and extended it to 33-20 at halftime.
Cousino struggled to find an offensive rhythm, shooting 12-for-55 (21.8%). Fletcher battled through double and triple teams to finish 11-for-26 shooting. .
“They were in our grill the whole game,” said Fletcher, who suffered a minor leg injury in the third quarter but returned. “Kate (McArthur) couldn’t really get open, and that led to us forcing shots and our poor shooting performance.”
McArthur, a three-point specialist, finished 0-for-16 in a rare off-shooting performance. The sophomore was 0-for-11 from three.
The Patriots tried to chip away at the deficit in the second half, but Flushing had an answer each time.
“It all starts with defense for us,” Raiders coach Larry Ford said. “Our defense was very, very good the whole game. We took Cousino out of the stuff they like to do.”
Ford noticed a potential semifinal matchup against the Patriots when the postseason began.
“I saw Cousino down there in the brackets, so I knew they were looming,” he said. “But the thing about (our players) … they’re just playing to win and don’t get wrapped up in a particular game. That speaks volumes for these guys, the senior leadership.”
Despite graduating six seniors, including Fletcher, Cousino hopes to rebound next season and make another championship run.
“It was definitely a pretty good career,” Fletcher said. “Last year, we did something special and knew it was going to be harder this year. Just getting here twice, when most teams can’t get here once, that’s an amazing feeling.”