EAST LANSING – Southfield A&T set a high benchmark for its girls basketball program.
In their first year as a combined high school, the Warriors made a deep run in the Class A state tournament before losing to East Kentwood, 55-51, in Friday’s semifinal at the Breslin Center.
A&T, the product of the consolidation of Southfield High and Southfield-Lathrup, graduates five seniors after claiming the program’s first district and regional titles this season. The departures include Miss Basketball finalist and Michigan signee Deja Church.
“It’s difficult when you merge two schools because you’re merging kids who have played against each other,” said Warriors coach Michele Marshall. “The kids all came together on one court. We agreed to play with each other, to become sisters. We made history and that’s not something that can ever be repeated.”
Mauriya Barnes had 16 points and six rebounds to lead East Kentwood, which has reeled off 24 straight wins after losing its second game of the regular season.
The Falcons (26-1), who led 30-15 at halftime, advanced to Saturday’s noon state championship against Flushing (23-3).
“Basically, I thought we pulled through because we were better than them,” said Falcons coach Jimmy Carter. “That’s not confidence, that’s just a bit of a fact. May sound a little conceited, but we were underrated all year. We weren’t even ranked in our area, so we had a little bit to prove.”
Behind a strong defensive effort, East Kentwood held the Warriors to 1-for-15 shooting in the first quarter. A&T (22-5) shot better in the next period, making 5 of 17 attempts.
The Warriors battled in the second half, getting within 53-49 with less than a minute left. A&T then missed a shot that would have cut the deficit to two points, and East Kentwood answered with Barnes’ two free throws to regain command.
“It wasn’t too much to overcome,” Church said of the Falcons’ early advantage. “We knew we could come back. We came back from 15-plus before, 20-plus before. But we couldn’t hold onto it.”
Church, who finished with 26 points, 12 rebounds, five steals and four assists, remained positive after the loss.
Warriors sophomore forward Alexis Johnson finished with 13 points and 17 rebounds.
“It was a really good season, especially with the circumstances we had to go through,” Church said. “At first, things were shaky, but we ended up getting to the Breslin. I’m proud of my teammates. I’m proud of my coaches. I’m not trying to be too down about it, even though it hurts. We still made history.”
The Warriors hope to build on this year’s experience.
“I feel like it’s going to be a really bright future,” said Church. “Most of the kids are very young, and after we made a run to the Breslin, I’m sure we’re going to attract new girls to come to Southfield A&T.”