Tournament preview: Country Day poised for Class B repeat
Detroit County Day entered the girls basketball state tournament last year as an underdog, young and talented but with no understanding of how to get to the Breslin Center to play for the championship.
Country Day not only made the trip to the Final Four in East Lansing for the first time since 2010, it won the Class B title, defeating Miss Basketball Tania Davis and Goodrich in the semifinals before lifting the ultimate crown with a title-game win over Haslett to finish at 20-4.
Country Day won the title with a starting lineup that included a freshman point guard in Kaela Webb, who scored 20 in the championship game, and a pair of sophomores in 5-foot-10 guard Destiny Pitts and 6-3 post player Tylar Bennett.
Country Day (19-1) is definitely the favorite this time around, especially with Pitts, who is one of the premier players in the state, already receiving offers from Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Kansas State and Marquette. And, Frank Orlando — now in his 35th year as head coach, and owning 11 state titles — has made sure his team will be ready for everything it faces.
It owns wins over Midland Dow (68-64), Ann Arbor Huron (42-38), Southfield-Lathrup (56-52), Detroit Renaissance (56-50), Haslett (69-56) and Ypsilanti Arbor Prep (37-33). Its lone loss was to Saginaw Heritage (39-29) in late December.
Country Day also has faced more than its share of adversity with Pitts and Webb missing games with concussions. It also had to battle back from double-figure deficits to win games, coming back from 16 down to defeat Midland Dow and scoring the game’s final 23 points to fight back from a 19-point deficit against Arbor Prep.
“It’s always harder to repeat and we’ve been lucky enough to do that three times,” Orlando said. “The first time it’s exciting and then you have to get the message through to the kids that nothing is given to you.
“We’re a good team, but a great team plays consistent basketball for four quarters and we haven’t done that. We’ve had to come back to win games six or seven times this season. I give our kids tremendous credit for coming back to win games, but we also don’t want to be in the position to have to do that.”
Pitts and Webb are healthy again. Pitts is averaging 16 points and six rebounds. Webb is averaging 12 points and five assists and Bennett is chipping in 10 points and seven rebounds.
Defending champion: Detroit Country Day
Favorite: Country Day
Contender: Bay City John Glenn
Dark horse: Williamston
Toughest district: At Flint Powers Catholic with Goodrich and Durand competing. Goodrich and Durand have split their season’s series.
Final Four: Country Day over Grand Rapids South Christian; Bay City John Glenn over Grand Rapids Catholic Central
Championship game: Country Day over John Glenn
Player to watch: Destiny Pitts, Country Day. She showed her ability to take over a game in last year’s state semifinal, scoring 28 in the win over Goodrich, then started the season with a 35-point effort in a comeback win over Midland Dow.
Saginaw Heritage dealt Country Day its lone loss of the season, and has played outstanding defense in limiting opponents to 25 points a game.
But, that was, of course, with 6-0 sophomore sensation Jaela Richardson on the court. Richardson, the daughter of former MSU star and NBA player Jason Richardson, suffered a knee injury earlier this month and is out for the season.
“She’s a 6-footer who is strong and she rebounded the ball really well against us, made things difficult for us with her length,” Orlando said of Richardson. “They will still be good, but that’s a tough blow for them.”
Heritage (19-1) is in the state’s toughest district with Midland Dow (17-3) at Mount Pleasant. The teams would meet in a district final. Heritage defeated Dow, 53-38, with Richardson in the lineup Jan. 19, but lost to Dow Feb. 12 without her, 48-40, with Dow making nine 3-pointers.
Don’t forget Haslett (16-4) and DeWitt (18-2) which will be competing in the same district at Lansing Waverly. DeWitt was the Class A state runner-up; Haslett, Class B state runner-up. Haslett has handed DeWitt its lone losses, including a 61-59 setback in triple overtime Feb. 19.
Birmingham Marian enters the tourney as the two-time defending state champion. Marian (13-7) won the Catholic League championship earlier this month, but will not be considered a favorite to make it back to Breslin. It graduated three starters and lost the Thomas sisters, guards Samantha and Bailey, who moved to Las Vegas with their family. They do have a talented center in senior Liz Grobbel.
While Heritage and Dow are in a tough district, the same can be said for state powers Southfield-Lathrup (17-3) and Public School League runner-up Detroit Renaissance (16-4), who are on collision course for a semifinal Wednesday at Southfield. This is Lathrup’s final run as the school is set to close in June.
Defending champion: Birmingham Marian (two-time)
Favorite: Saginaw Heritage
Contender: Detroit King
Dark horse: Detroit Renaissance
Toughest districts: At Mount Pleasant with Saginaw Heritage and Midland Dow competing, and at Lansing Waverly with Haslett and DeWitt in the field.
Final Four: Detroit King over Saginaw Heritage, Haslett over Grosse Pointe North
Championship game: King over Haslett
Player to watch: Miss Basketball candidate Siyeh Frazier of Renaissance. The Penn State-bound guard can score in bunches, scoring 37 in a 68-66 PSL title-game loss to King.
Calumet made the most of its 500-mile journey to East Lansing last winter, coming away with the state championship after a 57-49 upset win over Flint Hamady.
This season it could be Ypsilanti Arbor Prep’s year to lift the championship trophy. After all, Arbor Prep won’t be intimidated by the big stage after getting a glimpse of it last season, falling to Hamady in a semifinal.
Arbor Prep (18-2) was put to the test by head coach Rod Wells and passed the challenging schedule, earning wins over state powers Bay City John Glenn (50-47), Manistee (52-41), Birmingham Marian (52-30) and Saginaw Nouvel (66-42) with its lone losses coming at the hands of Ann Arbor Huron (54-36) and Detroit Country Day (37-33).
Arbor Prep has a deep and talented team, led by guard Nastassja Chambers.
But don’t count out Calumet (20-0), which ended Houghton’s 2000-2015 run of West PAC conference championships this season, or, for that matter, Hamady (18-1) with point guard Jalisha Terry, who will play next year at St. Bonaventure, back from last year’s state runner-up team.
St. Ignace (18-2), led by 5-9 senior guard Abbey Ostman, is another team capable of winning the title after earning the Class D state championship last year.
Ostman, who will play next year at Michigan Tech, was the hero in the Class D Final Four last year, scoring 31, including 21 during the second half and overtime, to rally St. Ignace to a 64-60 win over Pittsford, helping it become the first team to come back from a 20-point deficit to win the state title since 1987.
Ostman also scored 20, making 8-of-9 shots from the field, to rally the eventual champ back from a 13-point first-half deficit in a semifinal win over Frankfort.
Defending champion: Calumet
Favorite: Ypsilanti Arbor Prep
Dark horse: St. Ignace
Toughest district: At Saginaw Valley Lutheran with Reese and Saginaw Nouvel in the field
Final Four: St. Ignace over Calumet, Arbor Prep over Flint Hamady
Championship game: Arbor Prep over St. Ignace
Player to watch: Abbey Ostman of St. Ignace. She earns that right after last year’s impressive performance at The Breslin.
A new champion will be crowned in Class D with St. Ignace moving up to Class C this year.
And, Pittsford will want to take advantage of the situation after losing a 20-point lead and ultimately the state title game to St. Ignace last season.
Pittsford, enters the postseason unbeaten will have plenty of competition, including a potential quarterfinal matchup with Climax-Scotts and semifinal battle with Waterford Lakes.
Bark River-Harris, Newberry and Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart also will be factors.
Newberry split its season’s series with St. Ignace and Sacred Heart is led by physical center Averi Gamble.
Defending champion: St. Ignace
Dark horse: Waterford Lakes
Toughest district: At Bark River-Harris with Stephenson and the host school competing
Final Four: Pittsford over Waterford Lakes, Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart over Newberry
Championship game: Pittsford over Sacred Heart
Player to watch: Averi Gamble of Sacred Heart can be a dominating force inside, definitely a difference-maker.