East Lansing — Detroit Edison capped its school record-breaking season by taking advantage of its first state championship game appearance, defeating Pewamo Westphalia 46-44 in a thriller Saturday in the Class C title game at the Breslin Center for the right to raise the ultimate trophy.
Edison (21-5) hadn’t won a district championship before this season, but took the long journey led by 6-foot-3 sophomore Rickea Jackson (21 points, nine rebounds) and a pair of freshmen guards in Shaulana Wagner (12 points, five rebounds, three blocks) and Gabrielle Elliott (seven points, five rebounds).
Yes, that means it won’t be surprising to see Edison back at the Breslin in the years ahead.
Wagner set the tempo in the opening quarter, then made the play of the game by blocking Hannah Spitzley’s 3-pointer from the right corner with three seconds left.
“As I was going for it, it was like don’t let them score because then we’ll be down,” said the 5-7 Wagner of her block on Hannah Spitzley, a 5-10 freshman who scored 17. “The energy from the crowd and from the team picked me up and gave me the energy (to block shot).”
Edison coach Monique Brown had high praise for Wagner who was among nine freshmen on the 12-player roster.
“I don’t know what else I could have asked for from my team, especially Shaulana Wagner who has been playing on a bum ankle,” said Brown who started the program six years ago. “She went down and sprained it a little bit (in quarterfinal win over Blissfield) and the effort that she gave today was remarkable.
“That team (Pewamo Westphalia), I told my girls that they wouldn’t quit. I saw them on film two days ago and how hard they played and how they pride themselves on working real hard. I knew no matter if we had a lead that they’d definitely try and fight back, but the crowd was phenomenal and I’m just glad we fought through all of that and still came out on top.”
Wagner scored eight first-quarter points, including a three-pointer and baskets off of driving layups to help Edison take a 12-8 lead.
Oh, and Wagner was special at the defensive end too, swatting away a pair of inside shots by Hannah Spitzley in that opening quarter.
Jackson took over in the second quarter when she scored eight to help Edison take a 26-19 lead.
Pewamo Westphalia (24-3) had problems scoring inside and it didn’t help matters that it was misfiring from the perimeter, making just 1-of-9 three points during the first half.
Edison took its biggest lead 40-31 with 6:50 left when Jackson scored inside off a spin move, but then Pewamo Westphalia finally heated up from the perimeter with Hannah Spitzley making a pair of three-pointers to cut the deficit to 45-40 with 2:30 left.
Then, Edison actually started looking its age, turning the ball over, missing inside shots and the front end two critical 1-1s to keep Pewamo Westphalia’s hopes alive of a comeback win.
First, Wagner fell down, tweaking her left ankle, leading to a turnover and transition basket by Rachel Huhn to pull Pewamo Westphalia to within 45-42 with 1:34 left.
Then, after a missed layup by Elliott, Emily Spitzley scored inside to cut the deficit to a single point with 1:17 left.
In the final minute, Ariel Jenkins missed the front end of a bonus, then Wagner missed the front end seconds later, leading to one final chance for Pewamo Westphalia to pull the game out.
Pewamo Westphalia got past Edison’s press and trap to find Hannah Spitzley, but Wagner wasn’t about to let her make a third triple to become a hero.
“When she blocked it I just felt like she got me,” said Jackson of Wagner. “She always steps up to the plate and I’m very thankful of that.”
Still, Pewamo Westphalia had the ball out of bounds near its own baseline, but Jackson used her length to make it tough on the inbounds pass and the ball went off of Emily Spitzley for a turnover. Emily Spitzley, Hannah’s older sister, finished with 15 points.
“I knew putting Rickea out there on the inbounds would really distract them,” Brown said. “That’s been one of the models throughout the season. I like to play pressure up close, fullcourt pressure. The length has always been a problem for most teams that we’ve played.”
Said Pewamo Westphalia coach Steve Eklund: “It’s amazing the whole season comes down to just under four seconds. You put a 5-6 inbounder against 6-3, you just can’t practice that at Pewamo Westphalia. I thought we ran the right play. We got the ball and went down to (Emily) Spitzley 99 out of 99 times. I just told the girls ‘No regrets. We had a lot of people come up and just tell you what an awesome game it was.’”
But, in the end it was Edison’s freshmen that came through, Wagner with the block and then Elliott who made a free throw after getting fouled with 1.6 seconds left.
“They have heart,” said Jackson of the freshmen. “Just because you’re young everyone is going to doubt you, but they just have a big heart, a big heart like seniors would. They just play like ‘This is my last year,’ but it’s not, it’s only the beginning. I didn’t want to go home with an ‘L,’ I wanted to be smiling at the end of the game and they had my back and I had theirs and that’s why we’re smiling.”
Said Elliott: “People are saying now that the season’s over, but this is not the end of the DEPSA Lady Pioneers, it’s just the beginning.”