There was a sign being touted among a wave of purple on Tuesday that read “The Little Team with the Big Dream!”
The Athens girls’ basketball team kept that big dream alive, defeating Plymouth Christian Academy 54-48 in a Class D state quarterfinal at Battle Creek Central High School.
That little team just 20 minutes south of Battle Creek will head to the Michigan State University Breslin Center for the second time in as many years with its sights set on the Class D crown.
Athens (22-3) will play in the state semifinals on Thursday against Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes (20-4) — the same team that defeated the Indians in the 2012 State Championship game.
“I’m just proud of my girls. They just keep fighting,” said Athens head coach Calvin Quist. “As a coach I strive for perfection and for them to play hard all the time. They’re girls. They’re young and they’re teenagers and they make mistakes but we still strive to learn from our mistakes and get better. I can’t be any more proud then I am right now.”
The Indians came out aggressively, employing a high-pressure defense for most of the game and keeping it at a faster pace.
Athens played much of the first quarter on a 10-1 run, taking a six-point lead into the second.
“I thought we just couldn’t put the ball in the basket in the first quarter,” said Plymouth head coach Carol Gerulis. “I thought we had great shots, got to the basket early, we just missed some shots and got behind. That put us in a little bit of a hole and we struggled. Had we been able to make those in the first quarter, it would have been a different ball game”
From there, Athens was able to play a steady second quarter and take a 27-17 lead into halftime.
“We knew (Plymouth) had come from behind in four tournament games, so my message to our girls was that we want to get out to a quick start. They are going to fight back because they have proved it over and over again and they proved it tonight,” said Quist.
Athens held strong in the third quarter as well, increasing their lead to 11 points. They would pull off from their high-pressure defense in the fourth, however, to try and stop Plymouth’s dribble penetration.
Late in the fourth, Plymouth went on a 7-0 run; where Emily Gerulis hit two deep 3-pointers and Athens went 0-3 from the free throw line. The run would cut the lead to just three with a little over two minutes remaining.
The Lady Indians managed to gain their composure after Allison Fuller hit an easy layup, giving Athens a five-point advantage.
“When you have a 10 or 12 point lead a team cuts it to three, a lot of teams panic. I give my girls credit because they didn’t. They were able to take care of what they had to do to win this ball game,” said Quist.
Allison Fuller and Leia Fuller were both able to go 2-for-2 from the stripe; giving Athens four much-needed points and helping stop a comeback.
“It made my blood pressure go down a little bit,” joked Quist of the clutch free throws. “I think. We tend to kind of miss those in-between (free throws) for some reason but we usually bear down in the end. We did bury some big free throws in the end.”
The loss ends the season for Plymouth, who will only graduate two seniors from their team.
“They have the biggest hearts of anyone I’ve coached,” said Gerulis of her seniors. “They are great leaders and give you everything they can on the floor.”
Athens was led by Chantel Davenport, who had 20 points and 10 rebounds. Allysha Beal and Allison Fuller both added 10 points.
Emily Gerulis led Plymouth with five 3-pointers for 15 points. Jennifer Malcolm added 14 points.