Southfield — Julia Ayrault showed why she is considered to be a front-runner for next year’s Miss Basketball award, putting on a strong all-around performance to lead Grosse Pointe North to a 47-44 victory over Detroit King on Tuesday night in a Class A state quarterfinal.
But, Ayrault isn’t concerned about future individual awards, instead doing everything she can to help Grosse Pointe North earn its first state championship in 10 years.
North (20-5) will play in a state semifinal game at Calvin College at noon Friday against the Clarkston-Saginaw Heritage quarterfinal winner. The championship game is set for Saturday at noon.
Ayrault had 27 points, 11 rebounds and six blocks, making 9-of-12 shots from the field. She scored on a driving layup with a minute left, just 30 seconds after King junior guard Del’Janae Williams (14 points) made her fourth 3-pointer to pull King (17-4) within 45-44.
And, Ayrault collected her final block on Keiah Dancy’s 3-point attempt from the left wing with less than a second to go.
“I was just at the right place at the right time, I guess,” said Ayrault of her block on Dancy’s 3-pointer, the result of her sprinting the length of the court after failing to get an offensive rebound on a missed free throw on the front end of a 1-and-1.
Then, Ayrault got a hand on the in-bounds pass to end the game.
“She’s special, can do it all, definitely not one dimensional,” longtime North coach Gary Bennett said. “She puts us on her shoulders and everybody comes along for the ride, but everybody’s gotten better because of her.”
North set the tempo in the opening minutes by pounding the offensive glass, getting six shots on its first possession which Ayrault ended with a 3-pointer.
Ayrault scored seven and freshman guard Madeline Kohler six to give North an early 10-point (13-3) lead six minutes into the game. North led 16-5 after one and 23-15 at halftime.
“We’re playing our basketball right now as a team and it’s the best time to do it,” Ayrault said. “We kind of packed them down into a 2-3 (zone), protected the lane so they couldn’t drive on us and in the beginning it shut them down pretty well so we were able to get that lead.”
Then, when King senior Jordan Lewis came alive offensively in the third quarter — scoring 12 after being held scoreless during the first half — Ayrault answered her barrage with 13 points of her own during the quarter.
In fact, Ayrault scored nine unanswered points, capped off by a transition basket off her steal for a 38-27 cushion late in the third quarter after Lewis (17 points) put King on her back to pull within 29-27.
“I kind of felt them making a run and I knew we had to do something, had to get a little pep, just something to change the momentum,” Ayrault said of her 9-0 run.
But things got interesting when Ayrault got her third and fourth fouls early in the final quarter — the latter with 6:20 left, just seconds after making a 3-pointer for a 41-32 lead.
With Ayrault on the bench, King forced North into multiple turnovers and pulled within 41-35, forcing Bennett to put Ayrault back in at the 5:08 mark.
Still, King forced North into turnovers with Diamond Cannon and Lewis making transition baskets to cut the deficit to 41-39 with 2:50 left.
And North showed it was more than just Ayrault as 5-10 junior forward Madeline Mills (seven points) scored inside off a pass from Kohler and Kohler (eight points) scored in transition for a 45-41 lead before Williams’ final 3-pointer.
Lewis said in last week’s regional that she would do everything possible to win a state title for King coach William Winfield, who was hospitalized last week after falling ill.
Gwen Burton stepped in for Winfield for the fourth straight game and King had a chance to force overtime in the final minute, but Williams missed a pair of 3-pointers … with Ayrault in her face, and Lewis was helped off the court with 38.6 seconds left after suffering a leg injury.
“We just needed to get off to a better start, can’t get behind by 13, felt it would have made a difference if we had a quicker start,” Burton said. “Then, we got down by 1, 45-44 and had our leader (Lewis) go down, just too much for us to overcome, but I’ll take quarterfinals any day.
“And, that kid (Ayrault) can play. She was tremendous, could handle the ball, play defense, block shots. She did a great job.”
MORE CLASS A
Wayne Memorial 54, Hartland 44: Clemson-bound point guard Camree Clegg scored 16 to help Wayne Memorial reach the Final Four for the first time in school history, at Southfield A&T.
Whitney Sollom, a 6-4 sophomore, made a 3-pointer to pull Hartland (21-5) within 41-38 with 6:15 left, but Clegg helped Wayne go on a 13-2 run to open up a 54-40 cushion with 33 seconds left to earn the win.
Wayne defeated Hartland 45-40 back on Jan. 19.
“Our defense has been a great strength of ours all season,” pointed out Clegg who finished second to Jaida Hampton of East Lansing in voting for Miss Basketball last Friday. “We keep throwing different looks at people and our athleticism gets the best of them.”
Wayne (22-4) will face Hampton and unbeaten East Lansing (25-0) in a semifinal Friday at 2 at Calvin College.
Sollom finished with 22 points, but was held scoreless in the final 6 minutes, 15 seconds.
“We just kept fronting the post and having backside help,” Clegg said of Wayne defending Sollom. “If she got over us, oh well we’re just going to get the ball out and push the pace.”
Junior guard Jeanae Terry (14 points) and 6-0 junior forward Jayah Hicks (12) joined Clegg in double figures for Wayne.
“They were trying to box-and-one me and that’s OK, I just like to let the game come to me,” Clegg said. “I try to find my shots and I’m letting them (teammates) score and then the game opens up for me.”
TUESDAY’S GIRLS QUARTERFINALS
(Semifinals and finals at Calvin College)
Grosse Pointe North 47, Detroit King 44
Saginaw Heritage 70, Clarkston 25
East Lansing 63, Muskegon 45
Wayne Memorial 54, Hartland 44
Friday semifinals: Grosse Pointe North vs. Saginaw Heritage, noon; East Lansing vs. Wayne Memorial, 2
Championship: 12:15 Saturday
Jackson Northwest 42, Hamilton 35
Michigan Center 63, Chandler Park 49
Detroit Country Day 58, Freeland 41
Kingsley 49, Muskego Oakridge 39
Friday semifinals: Jackson Northwest vs. Michigan Center, 5:30; Detroit Country Day vs. Kingsley, 7:30
Championship: 6:15 Saturday
Detroit Edison 54, Flint Beecher 17
Pewamo-Westphalia 45, Kent City 30
Ypsilanti Arbor Prep 61, Schoolcraft 55
Maple City Glen Lake 60, St. Ignace 56
Thursday semifinals: Detroit Edison vs. Pewamo-Westphalia, noon; Ypsilanti Arbor Prep vs. Maple City Glen Lake, 2
Championship: 4 Saturday
Chassell 58, Gaylord St. Mary 41
Waterford Lakes 42, Kingston 28
Adrian Lenawee Christian 62, Athens 31
Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart 49, Bellaire 29
Thursday semifinals: Chassell vs. Waterford Lakes, 5:30; Adrian Lenawee Christian vs Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart, 7:30
Championship: 10 a.m. Saturday