EAST LANSING – It was an unexpected postseason run for the St. Johns girls basketball team.
A run that consisted of two wins over top-10 teams. A run that needed an unforeseen 3-point shooting performance from a senior, who, despite not hitting one all year, went 4-for-4 in the Redwings’ first regional title victory in 11 years. And, most importantly, it was a run that rallied a tight-knit farming community around a group of girls who reached heights untouched in nearly 19 years.
That run came to an end Friday afternoon, as St. Johns fell short at the hands of Class A No. 4-ranked Detroit Martin Luther King, 56-48, in the Class A state semifinals at Michigan State’s Breslin Center.
“This is an outstanding season,” Redwing coach Mark Lasceski said at the postgame press conference. “These kids up here with me, the kids in the locker room, they made this an outstanding season for the St. Johns community, for the basketball program and for them.
“They battled through everything. Through Christmas when we had our first loss and we’re feeling kind of down, we picked (it) up and figured out what we needed to do better and just kept improving from there. We stuck together and, through this run, they (became) a family.”
Friday’s showdown between two of Class A’s hottest teams was a matchup of styles. The high-scoring Crusaders (23-1) entered the semifinals averaging 66 points per game through the postseason. The defensive Redwings (23-4) — who were riding an 11-game winning streak — only gave up an average 30 ppg during their playoff push.
However, in a rare occurrence for St. Johns this season, offense won out, and Detroit King opened the contest with four 3-pointers by the time the three-minute mark rolled around.
The Crusaders shot 50 percent from the 3-point line in the game, going 9-for-18, and never trailed.
“I wanted to (get out) to a good start because I’ve never seen this team play,” said MLK’s Micaela Kelly, a DePaul signee, who scored six of her game-high 18 points within the first five minutes. “I didn’t want them to jump on us first.”
The Redwings went bucket for bucket with the Crusaders in the first eight minutes, as they only trailed by two points going into the second quarter. MLK’s outside shooting slowed down before halftime, but St. Johns was only able to hit one field goal in the second quarter.
The Redwings, who have also thrived on outside shooting this postseason, went just 5-for-19 in the game and came up empty on clean looks that had been falling regularly over the past month.
“At times we were frustrated,” said St. Johns sophomore Maddie Maloney, who had a team-high 12 points and six assists. “Obviously, we’ve been shooting well throughout the season. But tonight just wasn’t our night.”
St. Johns was able to keep the game within striking distance for most of the third quarter. A 4-0 run ignited by senior Brooke Mazzolini, who scored seven points, dished out six assists and grabbed six rebounds, to start the quarter got her team within four. But MLK came right back down with a triple on the other end.
Trailing 52-40 with 2:31 left to play, the Redwings went on an 8-2 spurt to cut their deficit to six. However, as time began to vanish, the Crusaders were able to put the game away at the free throw line.
“It’s definitely hard, especially when we’re used to making those shots and they’re not falling,” said Mazzolini, whose team held MLK to its third lowest scoring night of the year. “Everything seemed to be going against us, but we battled back hard and kept coming (back). We battled hard.”
The CAAC Red co-champs will return a lot of its team next season, but lose starters Jessica Hafner and Mazzolini to graduation. Maloney believes the expectations coming into her junior year will be much different than this past season after her team’s deep postseason run.
“We’ve seen what it takes to get here,” Maloney said. “Brooke and Jess have been such an important part of our team. It will be hard to replace them because they were (involved) a lot.”
Juniors Jamie Carroll and Erika Ballinger each scored eight points for St. Johns. Sophomore Nina Bozzo scored six.
Contact James L. Edwards III at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @JLEdwardsIII.