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Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart needed every minute of its Class D semifinal to earn a spot in Saturday’s championship. The Irish defeated Stephenson 45-38 on Thursday and it took free throws in the final seconds to close the game out.

The win puts the Irish in their second state championship in the last three years, and this team knows it’s not time to celebrate yet.

“We’re excited for the opportunity,” head coach Damon Brown said. “We’ve been positioning ourselves all year for this moment, and I know the girls are hungry. They’re going to give their all.”

Both teams fought a heavyweight battle in the first three quarters, with neither taking a clear advantage or even holding momentum until the Irish took a 5-point lead into the final quarter.

Freshman guard Scout Nelson hit a key jump shot with just under a minute left in the third quarter. On the next possession she intercepted a pass at the top of the key and took it the other way for a highly contested fast-break layup.

Associated Press Class D Player of the Year Averi Gamble flipped a switch in her game in the second half after going 0-for-5 from the field in the first half. The senior center finished with 13 points and 13 rebounds, right on line with her double-double season average.

“Winning a state championship was the best moment in my life so far,” Gamble said. “Winning another one would be amazing. I’m so happy to be coming back here, because I have been here already.”

Stephenson (24-3) had the lead at the end of the first quarter and kept it close throughout the half. Their constant double-team on Gamble, led by senior center Tori Wangerin, shut down the player of the year for the entire first half. But once she got rolling, there was no stopping her.

“We had to get through that first quarter and get the nerves out of the way,” Brown said. “Once we started playing like it was a regular basketball game, we were settled in.”

The Irish (23-1) square off against undefeated Pittsford at 10 a.m. Saturday for the state championship.

Michael Epps is a freelance writer.

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