East Lansing — Detroit Country Day won the battle of the state champions Friday night at the Breslin Center, blocking shots in the final minutes to defeat Marshall 46-42 in a Class B semifinal.
Country Day (25-1) won the state championship in 2015 and Marshall earned the title last season with the teams each returning several stars from the past glory years.
Country Day’s post players, 6-foot-4 senior Tylar Bennett (Clemson) and physical 6-0 junior Maxine Moore blocked Nikki Tucker’s inside shots late to pull out the win.
Trailing 42-40 Marquette-bound guard Kaela Webb took a pass from Miss Basketball finalist Destiny Pitts and scored a layup to pull even at 42 with 1:25 left.
Then, after Bennett blocked Tucker’s shot, Webb was fouled and made both ends of a 1-and-1 for a 44-42 lead.
Country Day was forced to make yet another big defensive play and Moore, playing with four fouls, batted away Tucker’s attempt.
“We told them to wait, wait, wait and then block, but don’t go after them right away because they’re too good at what they do,” said Country Day coach Frank Orlando, who is in his 50th year of coaching, now eyeing his 12th state title and thrilled to be on the sidelines after suffering a stroke last April.
Marshall (23-3) was forced to foul in the final seconds and Pitts made both ends of a 1-and-1 for a four-point cushion.
The showdown was close throughout with Marshall leading 19-17 after one and increasing its lead to six (23-17) before Country Day battled back with a 10-2 run to end the half, capped off with Pitts’ 3-pointer as time expired for a 27-25 halftime lead.
Country Day led 33-30 after three.
Country Day limited Marshall to three field goals combined in the second and third quarters, which Orlando credited to switching from a man to zone defense.
So, what was the difference in Country Day’s defense, limiting Marshall to a combined three field goals during the second and third quarters after Marshall connected on 8-of-17 during the first?
“We went to what we called Black, which was the matchup zone,” the Country Day coach said.
Said Pitts: “In the second half when we came out, we knew that defense was going to win the game and I felt we did a good job of communicating with each other where everyone was going to be on the floor. Then, in our timeouts we kept preaching defense, that we had to get stops in order to win.”
Pitts (Minnesota) struggled from the floor. She finished with 13 points on 4-of-16 shooting.
Bennett had 10 points, six rebounds and three blocks, Moore, five points and eight rebounds and Webb, nine points and eight rebounds.
Tucker and Jill Konkle each scored 13 for Marshall.
“I think it’s a little different than last year, we’re disappointed obviously that we lost the game, but we’re not crying because we lost the game,” said Marshall coach Sal Konkle. “I told the girls in the locker room there’s no reason to cry because we lost the game. We had a great game, a couple of shots didn’t fall when we needed them too, but I thought we played tremendously,. I think the tears are because I’m going to miss them.”