By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
EAST LANSING – On paper, at least, there were a few semi-viable reasons to not forecast Goodrich returning to Saturday’s Class B championship game at the Breslin Center.
Most of them centered on multiple injured starters, including Penn State recruit Aketra Sevillian, who never got on the floor. And after a perfect 2011-12 season, the Martians lost three games this winter – fantastic for most teams, but just a cut below what Goodrich had accomplished before.
But senior Taylor Gleason never bought any of it. She knew all along how this month would play out.
She and her teammates took another giant step in that plan Friday, downing No. 7 Grand Rapids South Christian 57-43 to advance to the title game for the second straight season – and this time set up an all-Flint Final against Powers Catholic.
“I didn’t once doubt it, even though we had three starters go down,” Gleason said. “I knew we could do this for them, we could do this for our community, We could do this, no doubt.”
“I wasn’t as sure as Taylor,” Goodrich coach Jason Gray added, Gleason and sophomore guard Tania Davis at his sides. “But these two really make it easy. They make so much happen for us. They make it so easy for their teammates. They stepped up to completely another level this year.”
The No. 3 Martians will face Powers at 6 p.m. in the day’s final championship game. The two met in District play a year ago, but found themselves on opposite sides of the bracket when lines were drawn for this season.
Goodrich’s 2012 championship further affirmed the program as one of the state’s current elite. But Powers has won four titles and long ruled Flint basketball. Late Friday night, the social media buzz already was beginning to heat up.
As they have throughout this season, Gleason and Davis led the way in their Semifinal as the Martians never trailed after the game’s first five minutes. Davis finished with 23 points and five steals, despite a hard fall that resulted in a bruised knee and a few jammed fingers. And Gleason – the Miss Basketball runner-up this week and an Illinois recruit – had 21 points, six rebounds, five assists and six steals.
The pair has played together since Gleason was in eighth grade and Davis in sixth, and their deep-rooted on-court chemistry has paid off all the more this season – as has been necessary.
“My mindset coming in (to the season) was to feed off Taylor and Kiki (Sevillian’s) energy. When Kiki went down, my whole mindset went from supporting them to stepping up and creating for myself and making my team feed off my energy,” Davis said. “I’ve really stepped into my leadership role. ... Me and Taylor both, we’re just doing an awesome job. And both of our mindsets have changed from just scoring to we have to score for us to win.”
Senior forward Anna Timmer led South Christian with eight points, nine rebounds and four assists, and the Sailors as a team outrebounded Goodrich 35-26.
But other numbers being equal or close (both had 19 field goals and South Christian just five more turnovers), Goodrich took a definite edge on free-throw shooting making 15 of 23 compared to South Christian's 2 of 5.
“We knew who their players were. They’re gamers. We tried to stop (Gleason). We tried to make things happen. We just kinda came out slow,” South Christian coach Jim DuBruyn said. “Maybe we had nervous jitters out there. They got a little lead, pulled to 5-4, and before I knew it, it was 8-4 and then it was 11-4. We had too many lulls in there. Defensively, we’ve held most teams to 33 points, but they were just a step quicker at times.”
South Christian finished 24-2, increasing its win total for the third straight season and also winning its Regional for the first time since 2004.
Ties between Saturday’s championship game opponents came to light quickly after Friday’s last game was done. Gleason’s aunt Aimee Pearson was a standout at Powers from 1995-98 and is tied for 14th-most career rebounds, with 1,009, in the MHSAA record book.
Although they don’t know each other well, Gray and Powers coach Thom Staudacher live in the same neighborhood. And Saturday surely will feel like a neighborhood clash between friendly rivals from one of the state’s traditional basketball power bases.
“We’re the two elite programs in our county, and we look to them as … they’ve won a few more state titles than we have,” Gray said. “They’re still the big dogs in the long run."
“We have a nice healthy rivalry. We’ve got rabid fans on both sides. This has the opportunity to be a real special environment (Saturday) night.”
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PHOTOS: (Top) Goodrich's Tania Davis prepares to shoot a free throw during Friday's Semifinal win over Grand Rapids South Christian. (Middle) Goodrich's Katrina Ellis works against South Christian's Kayla Diemer (right) for rebounding position. (Photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)