EAST LANSING – There will be a new girls basketball state champion in Class B after Birmingham Detroit Country Day ended Marshall’s quest to repeat on Friday.
The defending champion Redhawks held a two-point lead with 1:23 left in regulation, but the No. 2-ranked Yellowjackets scored six straight to finish off the state semifinal at the Michigan State University Breslin Center, winning 46-42.
“Our kids came through and it was very close,” said Country Day head coach Frank Orlando. “They never quit, they kept their head up and kept playing hard. That’s all I can say – they never gave up.”
Country Day (25-1) advances to Saturday’s state championship, where it will play Ypsilanti Arbor Prep (27-0).
Sixth-ranked Marshall ended its season with a 23-3 record while making back-to-back trips to the Breslin Center.
“We’re disappointed we lost the game, but we’re not crying because we lost the game,” said Marshall coach Sal Konkle. “I told the girls in the locker room, ‘There is no reason to cry because we lost the game, we played a great game and a couple shots didn’t fall that we needed them too.’ I think the tears are more because… I’m going to miss them. The five seniors have all done a tremendous job for our program and I have nothing but the utmost respect.”
After Marshall senior guard Carlee Long knocked down a game-tying 3-pointer from the corner, fellow senior guard Jill Konkle followed by hitting a running floater high off the glass with 1:46 left in regulation to give Marshall a 42-40 advantage.
Country Day junior guard and Marquette commit Kaela Webb would answer on the ensuing possession with a layup, and would give the Yellowjackets the lead for good on a pair of free throws with :47.1 left to play.
Marshall got the ball in the post for what would have been a game-tying shot, but Country Day’s 6-foot-4 center Tylar Bennett and 6-foot junior forward Maxine Moore teamed up for a clutch block.
Country Day senior guard Destiny Pitts hit a pair of free throws with :13.3 left to essentially seal the victory. The Minnesota commit finished with a team-high 13 points to go with five assists and two steals.
“I feel like all throughout the year, people haven’t been giving Marshall enough credit,” said Pitts, the AP Class B Player of the Year. “Marshall is a really good team, and nobody really talked about them. They didn’t win, but they showed up for their city and showed everybody who they are. Everybody knows Marshall now.”
Bennett would finish with 10 points and three blocks for the Yellowjackets, while Webb added nine points and eight rebounds.
Marshall 5-foot-10 junior forward Natalie Tucker nearly posted a double-double despite a big size disadvantage, finishing with nine points and a game-high 10 rebounds. Senior forward Nikki Tucker and Jill Konkle each had 13 points as the duo concluded their impressive four-year varsity careers.
“I think last year we proved to a lot of people that you don’t need a bunch of D1 players to be a good team,” Tucker said. “We don’t have D1 players. We’re not a team that’s extra tall. We’re not a team that’s super quick. We’re not a team that is crazy athletic. But we work together and move the ball and we make shots. That’s all you need to do to play basketball. I don’t need a million D1 commits to have a great team.”
According to Sal Konkle, her five seniors – Carlee Long, Taryn Long, Nikki Tucker, Jill Konkle and Georgianna Pratley – will leave behind a lasting legacy for the program.
“They’ve left a legacy for our team in the future here, so the freshmen and sophomores and juniors on our team this year, they know how hard you have to work to get results and reach your goals,” she said. “And we will still have lofty goals next year, and they are going to have to work hard, just like these kids did.”
Nick Buckley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 269-966-0652. Follow him on Twitter:@NickJBuckley