EAST LANSING – Alexis Huntey had never cried after winning a game. And it’s not like she and her teammates were new to the feeling.
Morley-Stanwood girls teams have achieved their share of significant milestones the last few years. And seniors Huntey, Bailey Cairnduff and Elyse Starck have been big parts of many of them.
But earning the Mohawks’ first-ever MHSAA basketball championship Saturday at the Breslin Center was like nothing those stars had experienced in sports before.
Huntey and Cairnduff also led the school’s volleyball team to the Class C title in the fall. And that was an emotional win. But there was just something different this time, evidenced by what fell with the final buzzer of the Mohawks’ 61-57 win over Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett and Miss Basketball Madison Ristovski.
“Basketball is just such an emotional sport out there. Every basket and every play is so key,” Huntey said. “I can’t even describe it. ... I cried today."
Cairndorff added, “We all cried like babies out there.”
No doubt, a decade of just-misses dissolved with those tears.
Morley-Stanwood had won 11 straight league titles and seven straight Districts heading into this March. But the Mohawks had never reached the Semifinals – and needed a two-point win over frequent power Kent City in the Regional Final to keep this run alive.
Morley-Stanwood coach Bob Raven told his players he’d kiss the Spartan head at center court if the team got to Breslin. They did, and then went a step further by beating reigning champion St. Ignace in Thursday’s Semifinal. When the Mohawks finished their 28-0 run Saturday afternoon, Raven kept that promise.
“I’ve been coming to these state Finals for a lot of years as a spectator. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better Class C game than that one,” Morley-Stanwood coach Bob Raven said. “I’ve know there have been some good ones over the years. (Flint) Hamady and St. Ignace a few years ago. But this one ranks right up there with them.”
Much of the credit fell to Miss Basketball.
University Liggett’s Ristovski, who has signed with the University of Michigan, scored 42 points – second most in MHSAA girls basketball championship game history to Peggy Evans’ 47 for Detroit Country Day in 1989. Ristovski did so on an impressive 15 of 29 shooting from the floor despite drawing attention from multiple defenders, just as she has all season.
The only defender who didn’t help on Ristovski was Starck, who instead focused fully on younger sister Haleigh Ristovski. Haleigh hit six 3-pointers in the Knights’ Semifinal win over Concord, and Raven knew that couldn’t happen again if his team was to come out on top. The plan worked – Haleigh Ristovski had only three points in the Final. But University Liggett also struggled to find additional help for their star, which might’ve cost the Knights in the end.
“We talked about it at halftime, and timeouts. We were stagnant, did a lot of standing around and stuff,” Knights coach Joe LaMagno said. “We showed signs of people moving, then went right back into it again. It was a trap we fell into ourselves.”
Madison Ristovski scored all 11 of her University Liggett's points in the fourth quarter as the teams remained within three points of each other throughout. Morley-Stanwood held a 59-57 lead after Starck split a pair of free throws with 37 seconds to play, giving Liggett another chance to tie or take a late advantage.
Ristovski moved around the 3-point arc looking for a shot, and settled for one from near the elbow at the top of the key. It missed – only the second miss on seven shots in the quarter. Two more free throw makes put the game out of reach.
“These girls don’t get rattled like their coach does,” Raven said. “They’re pretty low-key. We don’t have that rah-rah, fired-up girl on the team, and I think that helps us. They are so even-keeled when things are going great and then when they aren’t going great. I think that helps us battle through those situations.”
Huntey, Cairndorff and Starck combined for 55 points – Huntey had 27 and 16 rebounds, Cairnduff scored 18 with nine rebounds, and Starck added 10 points and five assists.
University Liggett also finished runner-up in 2011. For the second straight season, Madison and Haleigh Ristovski had to leave the Breslin floor with tears in their eyes as well – although not without plenty to be proud off in the days ahead.
“It's worse the second time,” Haleigh Ristovski said. “I'm still proud of her though. Madison played awesome.
Click for the box score. Watch the game and both teams' postgame press conferences at MHSAA.tv.
PHOTOS: (Top) Morley-Stanwood celebrates its first MHSAA championship. (Photo courtesy of Terry McNamara Photography.)