Southfield — Deja Church made sure she was going to get to experience what it was like to play on the big stage of the Breslin Center for a shot at the Class A state championship.
Church, a 5-foot-9 senior, had 21 points and nine rebounds to lead Southfield A&T to a 52-38 state quarterfinal victory Tuesday night on its home floor against Ann Arbor Huron, playing in front of her future coach Kim Barnes Arico of Michigan.
Southfield A&T (22-4) advances to Friday’s 2:50 p.m. semifinal game in East Lansing against East Kentwood. Huron finished at 19-6.
Church took control during the fourth quarter after Huron had pulled within three late in the third quarter while she was playing with three fouls.
After struggling with her shot, missing her final four shots of the third, Church opened the fourth with a runner in the lane for a 35-28 lead, then made a layup off a spin move for a 37-30 cushion and found sophomore forward Alexis Johnson for an inside basket and 39-30 cushion midway through the fourth.
Church picked up her fourth foul with 4:12 remaining and Southfield A&T holding on to a 39-32 lead, staying on the floor for the rest of the game.
“It feels really good, a humbling experience, just like putting a cherry on top of my senior season and I’m excited for it,” said Church said. "I wasn’t worried (about picking up third foul early in second half). I’m pretty smart and I knew I had to calm it down and not be as aggressive.
“I feel in the first quarter we started out really slow and then in the second quarter we talked about picking up our defense and rebounding because that was really big because they were banging us early on. We know rebounding is what’s going to get us to Breslin. We talked about it at the beginning of the season and now postseason we’re really applying it and it’s paying off.”
Southfield A&T, with its tallest player at 5-11, held a 36-30 rebounding edge. Southfield A&T also made 17-of-23 free throws, making 9-of-13 free throws during the final quarter, while Huron missed 10 of 24, including four straight early in the fourth quarter during a five-point game.
Southfield A&T coach Michele Marshall was thrilled with the win and excited about the opportunity to play at Breslin Center for the state title. She guided Southfield Lathrup to the Class A state title in 2006, but never got back to the Final Four … until now, in the first year of the merger between Lathrup and Southfield High.
“I can’t even express in the first year of the merger how important that is,” said Marshall of reaching the Final four. “It’s amazing.”
Yes, and so is Church.
“In the last couple of games Deja has done a good job of taking over in the fourth quarter,” Marshall said. "She’s a senior, a Miss Basketball candidate and she understands that what we’re going to do is going to go through her. She had the poise to know what to do in that situation and also to trust her teammates and I’m really proud of her. It’s what I expect of her.”
Fletcher can’t wait to take advantage of the reward for winning the quarterfinal.
“I’m excited, can’t wait to get there, but we’re still on a mission,” Fletcher said. “We’re going for a state championship.”
Emily Marsh, a 6-0 senior, had 15 points and six rebounds for Huron which also received 10 points from 6-1 sophomore Eden Johnson.
Johnson had nine points and eight rebounds for Southfield A&T.
East Kentwood 78, Kalamazoo Central 51
Southfield A&T 52, Ann Arbor Huron 38
Warren Cousino 47, Farmington Hills Mercy 41
Flushing 59, Macomb Dakota 28
Marshall 49, Grand Rapids Catholic Central 27
Ypsilanti Arbor Prep 41, Williamston 39
Detroit Country Day 58, Detroit Mumford 49
Freeland 53, Cadillac 38
Pewamo-Westphalia 43, Schoolcraft 19
Detroit Edison Public School Academy 58, Blissfield 42
Flint Hamady 37, Hemlock 28
Maple City Glen Lake 63, St. Ignace LaSalle 52
Pittsford 62, St. Joseph Michigan Lutheran 19
Saginaw Michigan Lutheran Seminary 56, Waterford Our Lady 48
Mt. Pleasant Sacred Heart 48, Frankfort 37
Engadine 44, Crystal Falls Forest Park 41
At Breslin Center
Detroit Edison PSA vs. Flint Hamady, 1 p.m.
Pewamo-Westphalia vs. Maple City Glen Lake, 2:50 p.m.
Engadine vs. Saginaw Michigan Lutheran Seminary, 6 p.m.
Pittsford vs. Mt. Pleasant Sacred Heart, 7:50 p.m.
Warren Cousino vs. Flushing, 1 p.m.
East Kentwood vs. Southfield A&T, 2:50 p.m.
Detroit Country Day vs. Marshall, 6 p.m.
Ypsilanti Arbor Prep vs. Freeland, 7:50 p.m.