East Lansing — Marshall held off a furious comeback from Grand Rapids South Christian on Saturday to take the Class B girls basketball championship, 51-42.
A 14-point second-half deficit proved too much for South Christian to overcome as Marshall earned its first state championship.
South Christian (25-3) fell behind 33-19 halfway through the third quarter, but fought back from there, closing the quarter on a 9-1 run. The deficit was cut to six with two minutes left, but Marshall (26-1) regained its composure, hit its free throws down the stretch and halt the comeback.
“We have come from behind before and made excellent runs, but they did a really good job of stopping it,” South Christian head coach Kim Legge said. “The momentum never seemed to swing to our favor, and that’s normally what it takes to pull off the comeback.”
South Christian hung around to give Marshall trouble as the fourth quarter went on. After Marshall’s Nicole Tucker opened the quarter with a big 3-point-play, South Christian came back with a couple of baskets to make it 37-32 with 6:30 to play. Later, when Marshall looked to pull away with a 10-point lead with 3:45 left, South Christian scored four quick points to keep it close.
But South Christian's magic ran out and it could not come up with the defensive stops in the final two minutes that it needed to erase the deficit. It was forced to send Marshall to the free-throw line to stop the clock.
“I kind of feel like the little engine that thought he could,” said Marshall head coach Sal Konkle. “Not a lot of people thought we could do it. But we believed, and the girls worked extremely hard all year long, and we got it done.”
Jill Konkle led the way for Marshall, scoring 13 points and making big free throws down the stretch. Tucker, the star in Friday night’s epic win over Bay City in the Class B semifinal, scored eight points.
Senior forward Markayla Vander led the comeback for South Christian with a team-high 16 points, including 12 in the second half. Senior guard Jennifer DeBoer also made big contributions, scoring 13 points and grabbing 9 rebounds.
“I was nervous about the comeback, but you never want the kids to see you nervous,” Konkle said. “I wanted them to think I was tough so that they would be tough, and in that situation it’s all about mental toughness. I told them if you don’t out-tough them mentally and out-execute them then you’re going to be runners up.”
Konkle, Marshall’s head coach for 16 years and a member of the Marshall team that lost the state championship in 1981, said he's felt a special connection with this team all year.
“They’re all my girls,” Konkle said when sitting next to her daughter, junior guard Jill Konkle. “When you’re in a small town like this these kids come over to each others' house, we do things together, they go to prom together, and that’s what makes this so special. These kids are so close and they are going to remember this for a very long time.”
Marshall won its first state championship in its first finals appearance in 35 years. South Christian has lost in the finals in two of the past three years.
Michael Epps is a freelance writer