By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
EAST LANSING – Grand Rapids South Christian rarely plays a girls basketball game it’s not expected to win.
So labeling the Sailors "underdogs" probably was an exaggerated assessment heading into Friday’s Class B Semifinal again reigning champion Detroit Country Day.
True, the Yellowjackets were ranked No. 1 heading into the postseason and had lost only once this winter. But South Christian was No. 3, had lost only twice, and brought back three seniors who had come 17 minutes from an MHSAA championship only two seasons ago.
And now they’ll have the chance to bring back the Sailors’ first title since 1988. South Christian dominated nearly from start to finish to down Country Day 57-46.
“Being the underdog, it was kinda fun, because no one really expected us to come out how we did, especially in the first half when I think we were up by 10 at halftime,” South Christian senior guard Jenn DeBoer said. “But we knew they were going to keep pushing and keep coming back, and we had to keep our poise and keep our control. But being the underdog and getting this win, it’s such an amazing feeling because no one really knew that we had it in us.”
The Sailors (25-2) will face Marshall at 6 p.m. in Saturday’s final championship game.
DeBoer, forward Markayla Vander and guard Sydney DeYoung were sophomores two seasons ago when South Christian reached the Final but fell 51-38 to Eaton Rapids. Coach Kim Legge – in her first season as head coach – was on the bench and has been part of the program for two decades.
All of that experience no doubt has led to people outside the program to notice and tell Legge how even-keel her team seems to play – a trait that pays off at this time of year when one swing can end a season.
“People have said, ‘Wow, you look so poised all the time,’” Legge said. “Even when teams make runs at us, we stay even-keeled and keep our heads above water and keep pushing. And that’s just how we’ve operated all season long.”
South Christian led by as many as 16 during the second quarter and 10 at halftime, but did have to hold strong after Destiny Pitts’ 3-pointer with 4:42 left pulled Country Day within 41-37. The Sailors came back with a 16-9 run to finish, with DeBoer scoring six of her game-high 18 points down the stretch.
“They played very good defense; give them credit for that. We, just for some unknown reason, we were hurrying,” Country Day coach Frank Orlando said. “We shot 17 percent from the field in the first half, and that wasn’t us all year. I kept telling the girls that in these kind of games you have to be better, have to be much better, and you have to understand you can’t take away what you’ve done all year.
“We’ve come back against the best teams in the state. … (We) played hard. (We) almost came back. It was that breaking line we just couldn’t get across.”
Staying with the unexpected, South Christian maintained its lead without making a 3-pointer. The Sailors averaged nearly six per game entering the week, but missed all 10 of their attempts Friday.
But in addition to DeBoer’s 18 points, Vander had 14 on nearly 50 percent shooting from the floor, and DeYoung had six but 11 rebounds. Sophomore forward Mariel Bruxvoort came off the bench to score 10 points while making half her shots and all four of her free-throw attempts.
Pitts – one of the state’s top juniors – had 14 points, only two below her average but while putting up with tight defense by Vander and getting only four shots off from 3-point range (and making one). Sophomore forward Maxine Moore had 13 points and guard Kaela Webb added 11 points and six rebounds for the Yellowjackets (24-2).
“I never second-guessed our team’s ability. I knew that coming into it, if we played our game, we could do it,” DeBoer said. “We could shut them down defensively, and if we worked the ball on offense we could get open looks because that’s what we’ve been doing against good defensive teams all season.
So I never really second-guessed them during the game and thought they’re not as good. I just knew we had to keep pushing and we had to stay in control, because we definitely had control most of the game.”
Click for the full box score.
The Girls Basketball Finals are presented by Sparrow Health System.
PHOTOS: (Top) Grand Rapids South Christian players celebrate Friday’s Class B Semifinal win. (Middle) Country Day’s Kaela Webb drives to the hoop.