Grand Rapids – Moira Joiner made life miserable for Grosse Pointe North standout Julia Ayrault and Saginaw Heritage went on to earn a 46-28 victory in a Class A state semifinal Friday afternoon at Van Noord Arena.
Heritage (26-1) led 12-9 after one, then forced eight turnovers during the final six minutes of the half to build a double-figures lead … and it should have been more.
Joiner, a 5-9 junior guard, used her quickness and in-your-face defense to limit Ayrault to a single shot in the second quarter while keeping the ball out of her hands for the most part, and her teammates forced North into multiple turnovers.
“It’s kind of been the strategy all season long, put her on the (opposing) team’s best player; Moira does a great job defensively,” said Heritage coach Vonnie DeLong. “We didn’t double, didn’t help out a whole lot, just took care of business.
“I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of great kids over the years and have some great defensive teams and we’ve really stressed defense. I’m not just saying they are the best ever, but they’ve been tremendous at buying into, ‘If we play defense we’re going to win.’”
Heritage used a 10-0 run to open a 20-9 lead and led 22-13 at halftime, forcing 14 turnovers while only turning the ball over one time.
Ayrault, who averaged 19 points, 10.1 rebounds and 4.5 blocks, struggled in the opening quarter when she made just 2-of-7 shots. She finished with 13 points and nine rebounds, making 5-of-12 shots.
“We’ve worked in practice on staying in front of people and I think that’s really all you have to focus on – stay in front of people, don’t turn your body, get your hands up and you can frustrate them,” Joiner said.
Heritage kept North (20-6) scoreless for a stretch of 6:40 in the first half before Ayrault’s 10-footer cut the deficit to 20-11.
However, Heritage failed to get a larger lead when it scored just seven points off the eight turnovers during the final six minutes of the half.
Still, Heritage owned the opening minutes of the second half to take a comfortable 16-point lead with Mallory McCartney (13 points) making her third 3-pointer and Joiner (nine points, five rebounds) and Shine Strickland-Gills (12 points, seven rebounds) each making baskets for a 29-13 lead.
Again, North went scoreless for more than three minutes before Ayrault’s 3-pointer.
Stickland-Gills, a 6-1 junior, was dominant during the third quarter, making 5-of-7 shots and scoring 10, including a putback as time expired to open a 39-19 cushion.
Heritage shot 43 percent and committed eight turnovers while North shot 32.1 percent and committed 23 turnovers.
“This whole season has been pretty much a gift for us,” said North coach Gary Bennett. “When we started I didn’t think we were a very good basketball team. I feel like sometime in January things started to click a little bit and we started to become a better team.
“We have a superstar and we have a bunch of role players and the role players know that they need the superstar and the superstar knows she needs the role players, and that’s kind of been our season. We’ve had great chemistry and people have filled their roles.”
Detroit Edison 50, Pewamo-Westphalia 39
Ypsilanti Arbor Prep 53, Maple City Glen Lake 35
Final: Saturday, 4 p.m.
Chassell 55, Waterford Lakes 51
Adrian Lenawee Christian 46, Mt. Pleasant Sacred Heart 44 (OT)
Final: Saturday, 10 a.m.
Saginaw Heritage 46, Grosse Pointe North 28
East Lansing 60, Wayne Memorial 52
Final: Saturday, 12:15 p.m.
Jackson Northwest 56, Michigan Center 47
Detroit Country Day 70, Kingsley 54
Final: Saturday, 6:15 p.m.