EAST LANSING — Taylor Hengesbach was in the seventh grade when Saginaw Nouvel — led by Jenny Ryan and coached by her mom, Kris Hengesbach — won its second state title in 2008. Now the senior guard/forward gets to play for one.
“This is surreal,” Coach Hengesbach said after Nouvel beat U.P. representative Houghton, 44-32.
“I pinch myself every day I’ve gotten a chance to go through this journey with her. It’s pretty cool.”
The Panthers (25-2) advances to Saturday’s Class C final against Manchester at Breslin Center.
“There’s one picture that we have in our house after they won,” Taylor Hengesbach said of 2008. “We were hugging and we were like ‘we want to get that same picture,’ like a repeat of it on Saturday. I just remember the team being so energetic and confident, and the school was so supportive.”
So was Rachel McInerney. Hengesbach, who scored 13 points, gets more than a helping hand from 6-foot-2 junior center, who was the best player on the floor with 16 points, 17 rebounds and five blocked shots.
“They did a good job of closing down the post,” McInerney said. “There were always two girls closing down. We had to adjust to it and pass more to the outside. I just had to work as hard as I could to get a steal and get a rebound.”
Houghton (23-3) had problems shooting throughout the game — the Gremlins were 11 of 55 for 20%.
Alexa Johnson scored 11 points off the bench to lead Houghton. She also had five rebounds.
“Their length caused us problems,” said coach Julie Filpus. “We missed shots we made throughout the year. It was just a struggle to get off a shot inside. I think it became more frustration than nervousness.”
Nouvel attacked early, scoring the first 11 points with Hengesbach getting seven and McInerney four. The Panthers led, 15-6, after the first. They led by as many as 11 before Houghton put together a spurt that trimmed the lead to 17-10 on a triple by sophomore guard Sydney Dillinger (three points, six rebounds).
With Hengesbach on the bench with two fouls, McInerney took over, making two lay-ups with Nicole Buckingham adding a basket as a 6-0 run gave the Panthers a 23-12 halftime lead.
“We rely on our defense,” Coach Hengesbach said. “When our team is on point defensively we can beat anybody.”
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