Grand Rapids — Saginaw Heritage dominated Miss Basketball award winner Jaida Hampton and East Lansing, walking away with the Class A state championship trophy following its 57-36 victory Saturday afternoon at Van Noord Arena.
After holding a 12-8 lead after one, Heritage (27-1) opened the second quarter with a 6-0 run to post a 10-point lead (18-8) and increased the cushion to 28-15 at halftime.
Hampton and East Lansing (26-1) never got going against Heritage’s zone defense.
Hampton was limited to six points and three rebounds, making just 1-of-13 shots from the floor and missing all six of her 3-point shots.
She was 0-for-7 in the first half and was called for a charging foul late in the second quarter that wiped away her basket, and 6-foot-1 junior forward Shine Strickland-Gills scored underneath at the other end of the floor for a 24-12 lead with 1:20 left in the half.
So, why did Heritage fifth-year coach Vonnie DeLong decide to use the zone?
“Well, I thought they (East Lansing) were pretty quick for us,” DeLong said. “We’ve traditionally played a lot of zone, but this year we played almost all man. We played zone against Carman-Ainsworth and Detroit Edison and that was it because I felt like they were quicker than we were and we had a better chance.
“I thought our zone, it just gives us a different look and it’s a struggle I think, you might have seen that today with East Lansing, it was probably a little bit of a struggle for them to attack it. They weren’t necessarily ready for it.”
No, East Lansing wasn’t ready for Heritage to use a zone, especially after Heritage defeated Grosse Pointe North 46-28 in a semifinal Friday with strong man defense, led by 5-9 junior Moira Joiner slowing down North’s 6-2 junior standout Julia Ayrault.
In fact, Heritage has been dominant all week, limiting its three opponents to an average of 30 points, including a 70-25 quarterfinal win over Clarkston Tuesday.
It was Strickland-Gills who was a force at both ends for Heritage, contributing a double-double (12 points, 12 rebounds). Madison Camp, a 5-10 senior forward, also had a double-double (15 points, 10 rebounds), making 6-of-8 shots while helping Heritage own a one-sided 43-23 rebounding advantage, 15-9 at the offensive end.
“I just kind of go out and play hard, that’s pretty much what I do,” Strickland-Gills said. “As most people would say I’m a defensive player and that’s what I like to do, all it takes to get 12 rebounds is effort, and I know my teammates will get me to score, so I don’t really worry about that.”
East Lansing coach Rob Smith had high praise for Strickland-Gills.
“We are a team that doesn’t have a lot of size and it’s a necessity for us to box out to win games and tonight it was 43-23 on the boards and you’re not going to win too many basketball games in that situation,” Smith said. “I’ve got to say that Strickland kid there was just really, really good tonight. She had 12 boards and she was very, very tough down low and we just didn’t have an answer for her.”
Jessica Bicknell had 12 points and Mallory McCartney added 10 for Heritage, which shot 46 percent from the field.
East Lansing had sophomore forward Aaliyah Nye and little else. Nye finished with 18 points on 6-of-14 shooting, making 6-of-10 3-pointers. East Lansing shot 23.3 percent from the field.