By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
EAST LANSING – One way or another, Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes was going to be one of the most intriguing stories from this weekend’s MHSAA Girls Basketball Finals at the Breslin Center.
But with a quarter to play in Thursday’s last Class D Semifinal, it wasn’t going to be for the reason the Lakers would’ve liked.
Our Lady will play Saturday to become only the second team in MHSAA girls basketball history to win four straight Finals championships. But it’s an opportunity that came about only because the team survived arguably its greatest scare since starting this incredible run in 2010.
The Lakers didn’t score in the second quarter and trailed Athens by seven with a eight minutes to play before emerging with a 35-27 victory over the team they also beat in last season’s championship game.
“I was just kinda waiting for when it was going to happen,” Our Lady senior guard Ava Doetsch said. “I knew it was going to happen. After halftime came, (I thought) it has to be the third quarter. Then, it has to be the fourth quarter. And then it did.”
The No. 9 Lakers (21-4) will face top-ranked St. Ignace in Saturday’s first championship game, at 10 a.m. The Saints, like Our Lady, have made it to the Breslin Center each of the last three seasons. They won Class C in 2011 and fell in that class’ Semifinals a year ago.
Another championship would tie the Lakers with Flint Northern’s 1978-81 teams for the longest girls basketball streak in MHSAA history. Only four teams, boys or girls, have won four or more consecutive MHSAA titles – on the boys side, River Rouge won four from 1969-72 and five from 1961-65, and Crystal Falls Forest Park won four straight Upper Peninsula championships from 1938-41 during the era when separate tournaments were held for each peninsula.
But before Our Lady could consider any of that, it had to get past Athens again. And that proved much tougher than in last winter’s 53-37 Finals victory.
After senior guard Lexie Robak hit a 3-pointer with 3:37 to go in the first quarter to give the Lakers a 9-3 lead, they didn’t make another field goal until 3:10 into the third quarter – a stretch of nearly 15 minutes.
That shot cut Athens’ lead to 18-13. The Indians (22-4) went into the fourth quarter up 22-15.
“We knew we had to come out and play our game and not worry about the other team,” said Robak, who with Doetsch has started all four of the team’s Finals wins. “I don't know why we were nervous, but we were. When we got rid of those, we started playing our game.”
Both teams struggled to find the basket – Our Lady shot only 26 percent from the floor for the game, and Athens came in at 19 percent.
But the Lakers found their sharpness in the fourth, hitting 5 of 7 shots from the floor and 8 of 15 free throw attempts to finish on a 20-5 run that was nearly as shocking as the drought had been earlier.
Meanwhile, Athens had 11 of its 21 turnovers over the final 7:41 as the Lakers turned up the pressure.
“I don’t think we got in the positions that we should’ve gotten in to be successful in breaking that press,” Indians coach Calvin Quist said. “We’ve been pressed during this season, but not a whole lot because we usually handle it well. We didn’t handle it well, and that was the difference in the game.”
Lexie Robak finished with 13 points and Doetsch had eight and five steals. But the key may have been junior forward Anna Robb, who made 3 of 5 shots for seven points and grabbed a team-high seven rebounds as well.
Senior Chantel Davenport led Athens with 11 points and grabbed seven rebounds, and junior Audrey Oswalt grabbed 11 rebounds.
“It’s probably not the way we imagined it might go,” Our Lady coach Steve Robak said. “But when the fourth quarter rolled around, and this group’s backs were against the wall, there was never any doubt in our huddle. And certainly (not) with this group.”
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PHOTOS: (Top) Waterford Our Lady's Ava Doetsch (20) works to drive around Athens' Allison Fuller during Thursday's Class D Semifinal. (Middle) Athens' Audrey Oswalt (22) make a strong move to the basket. (Photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)