East Lansing — Destiny Pitts and her Detroit Country Day teammates talked fondly all season about Frank Orlando and his 50th year in coaching and they obviously wanted him to cap off the milestone in style.
And, Pitts & Co. got the job done, defeating previously unbeaten Ypsilanti Arbor Prep, 59-48, Saturday night at the Breslin Center in the Class B final to hand Orlando his 12th state championship in 36 years at the school.
No doubt, Country Day (26-1) had the size advantage with 6-foot-4 Tylar Bennett (Clemson) and physical 6-foot junior Maxine Moore, along with Pitts (Minnesota), a Miss Basketball finalist, but they had to deal with Arbor Prep’s quickness and outstanding pressure defense to get the job done.
Country Day led 14-9 after one, 27-15 at halftime and 41-27 after three.
“For me personally, I was just playing for Coach O because during the offseason last year, after we lost (state semifinal game) Coach O had a stroke, so it kind of hit me hard. So this season I’ve been just playing for him because I know how important it is for him,” said Pitts of the 74-year-old Orlando who suffered the stroke last April. "Coming into this game we had extreme confidence because we knew we wanted to take the state championship back to Country Day for our fans and our community.
Orlando has no plans to retire, either.
“I just love it so much that something keeps me going,” he said. “I don’t know what it is, but I know I want to coach next year. I know that for sure.”
“It (state title) was real satisfying. The feeling we had walking out last year (after state semifinal loss to Grand Rapids South Christian) is that we didn’t play the way or type of basketball we’re capable of. It just fed throughout practice, remember this, remember, and I told the girls today when we had the lead to remember the game against Saginaw Heritage where we lost by a point (in late February after leading by 10) and I think that led to a few points … it was good.”
Country Day played to its potential when it mattered most, shooting 64.7 percent from the field (22-of-34), making 7-of-12 3-pointers and limiting its turnovers (16) against Arbor Prep’s pressure defense.
“I think that we did that by keep moving the ball,” Pitts said. “We weren’t forcing shots. We kept swinging it around until we found an open person and I think each individual player on the team shared the ball and when they were open shot it.
“Kaela (Webb) knows that we have so many scorers on our team. I think everyone had good confidence tonight. Tylar (Bennett) took her time in the post, Max(ine Moore), like we all knew we were all confident that we’d knock down our shots.”
Pitts scored 17, making 3-of-6 3-pointers and grabbed 10 rebounds to help Country Day to a 27-20 edge on the glass. Bennett scored 15 and blocked five shots and junior guard Kaela Webb, a Marquette commit, had 13 points and nine assists.
Webb is thrilled to be having Orlando come back next year. After all, it was Webb who scored 20, making six free throws down the stretch to help Country Day defeat Haslett 49-41 for the state title her freshman year two years ago.
“Yes,” Webb said. “Me and Coach, I think we got another one left in us.”
And, it was Webb who made consecutive three-pointers in the opening quarter to turn a 9-6 deficit into a 12-9 lead against Arbor Prep. Country Day led the rest of the way, putting on a 1-2-2 zone to give Arbor Prep problems in the second quarter.
“It’s a very difficult loss today,” Arbor Prep coach Rod Wells said. “I thought Country Day played a real good game. They made a lot of shots, and in the first half we didn’t make shots and it was hard to make up that gap.
“I thought we played a lot better in the second half. It took us a while to adjust to the zone. Country Day played us man at the beginning and I thought we were doing good, then they went to the matchup zone.
“I’m really proud of my girls, three losses in two seasons. We beat the Class A state champs (Flushing) and we beat the Class C state champions (Detroit Edison). We just didn’t beat the Class B, so I’m proud of the girls with their effort. There’s no reason for us to hold our heads down. We have a great program, great girls and I love them to death.”
Orlando loves his girls too, especially by how much they feel about the legendary coach.
“It means the world to me because it’s why I got into coaching,” Orlando said. “It’s been fifty years, but I never thought I’d win one (state title). It’s since I’ve come to Country Day we’ve won a couple (actually 12). I appreciate the sentiment and the effort they gave.”
Arbor Prep won the Class C state championship last year, winning 10 straight after a loss to Country Day. It then moved up to Class B for a rematch, knowing it would come in the title game. The result was an end to its 37-game winning streak.
It looked like Arbor Prep (27-1) would cut into Country Day’s lead early in the second half, but Adrienne Anderson missed a layup in transition and Country Day increased the lead, going inside to Bennett for consecutive inside baskets to open up a 31-15 lead.
It didn’t help that Arbor Prep wasn’t getting any calls when Ro’zhane Wells took the ball to the basket and made contact, calls that were called on Country Day during the semifinals the previous day.
Moore was able to bang away and get inside baskets, and Pitts started to heat up during the third quarter, making a pair of 3-pointers to make sure Country Day kept a double-digit lead and prevent an Arbor Prep comeback.
Pitts made her third three-pointer to give Country Day its largest lead at 46-30 with 5 1-2 minutes remaining.
Arbor Prep cut the deficit to nine in the fourth quarter, but Webb would find Bennett for inside baskets and then Webb made a three-pointer and Pitts a breakaway layup in the final minutes to start the celebration.
Junior Lasha Petree scored 15 and Wells, a senior guard, scored 14 for Arbor Prep.