EAST LANSING (DETROIT FREE PRESS) ? Grosse Pointe South had done all it could. It had erased Grand Haven’s 11-point lead to tie the game and had the ball with 45 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
It called for a back door play that had worked to perfection earlier in the game and resulted in a Cierra Rice lay-up.
But Grand Haven’s Hannah Wilkerson remembered the play, as well as everyone in Grand Haven.
“The coaches were really helpful,” Wilkerson said. “We came out of the timeout and they were all: ‘Watch the back door, they’re going to run a play for her.’ I almost didn’t get it, l but I got my hand in there just in time.”
Wilkerson broke up the play to force overtime and the extra four minutes belonged to Grand Haven, just like the Class A state championship trophy.
Grand Haven won its second consecutive state tile with a second straight victory over Grosse Pointe South, 60-54.
While No. 1 South (25-2) returned three starters and a key transfer, No. 2 Grand Haven (28-0) returned only one starter ? 6-foot-5 Abby Cole, who had to battle foul problems but still managed 11 points, seven rebounds and eight blocked shots.
This was a true team effort for Grand Haven, which got 17 points from Hannah Wilkerson, who was 8-for-8 shooting, and 14 from Taylor Craymer, who was 5-for-7.
“We knew we had to knock down some shots today if we wanted to have a chance,” said Grand Haven coach Katie Kowalczyk-Fulmer. “Obviously, Abby can score inside, but they weren’t just going to let us lob it inside and she wasn’t going to be able to score 30 points.”
South hit only 21-of-78 shots (26.9%), while the Bucs were 22-of-29 (75.9%). The game was competitive because South forced Grand Haven into 32 turnovers, which South converted into 31 points.
“Our main focus as a team is defense,” said Rice, a sophomore. “And we try to focus on pressuring the ball and making them throw bad passes and have them dribble it off their foot ? anything to try to get the other team to turn it over.”
Grand Haven led 26-17 at halftime and was up 11 when Cole picked up her fourth foul on a second consecutive questionable call with 1:06 left in the third quarter and South was not afraid to run plays at her.
“I knew that she was fouling so I thought to just keep going at her hoping that they called fouls or try to get her to jump,” said Rice, who was spectacular with 24 points. “I tried to make plays trying to get her out of the game because she’s a huge player for Grand Haven.”
With Cole on the bench, South tried going to Claire DeBoer, but Craymer played excellent defense as DeBoer struggled, hitting only 3-of-23 shots.
“I was just thinking. ‘I’ve got to guard Claire DeBoer,'” Craymer said. “I guarded her and, I don’t know, I just had adrenaline and I just went for it.”
The game went into overtime when Wilkerson picked off the back door play. After Amanda Merz made a free throw for Grand Haven, Cole scored on back-to-back post plays while South failed to score on five of its six overtime possessions.
“Coach K said we needed to pound the ball inside,” said Cole. “They weren’t going to be able to answer that. I got better looks than I did in the first half.”
And Kowalczyk-Fulmer was handed the Class A trophy after a second straight agonizing game.
“It’s tough to play two tough games back-to-back like that,” she said. “I’m exhausted and I’m not doing anything but stomping my heels. These kids are resilient. I’m so lucky to have such good kids.”
Contact Mick McCabe: 313-223-4744 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter@mickmccabe1.