By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
EAST LANSING – When Monique Brown heard voices as she walked past her players’ hotel rooms late Wednesday night, she was a little concerned.
Maybe she’d made a mistake bringing her young team to East Lansing the night before the biggest game in school history.
But as they have other times before, Detroit Edison Public School Academy’s players proved their coach wrong, coming out Thursday afternoon anything but sluggish in earning an even more memorable opportunity.
DEPSA – with nine freshman, a sophomore and two juniors on its roster – looked neither tired nor inexperienced in handing annual Breslin visitor Flint Hamady a 54-31 defeat in the day’s first Class C Semifinal.
“We got there late, and we couldn’t sleep. We were just talking about what we can do,” Pioneers sophomore guard Rickea Jackson said. “They came knocking on our doors … they took our phones. We couldn’t do anything but talk.”
DEPSA (20-5) will face Pewamo-Westphalia in Saturday’s Class C Final at 4 p.m. It will be the Pioneers' first appearance in an MHSAA girls basketball championship game.
As much as they had to discuss after midnight the evening before, Jackson and her teammates made a loud statement with their play to tip off this Finals weekend.
They held Hamady to 8.3-percent shooting from the floor during the first half in building a 28-8 lead. The Hawks did recover to shoot an improved 36 percent during the second half, but DEPSA made 49 percent of its shots for the game – and freshman Gabrielle Elliott had nine field goals, only one fewer than Hamady as a team.
Elliott finished with 24 points and Jackson had 16 and eight rebounds as they combined to drop 16 of 26 shots from the floor – not bad for a couple of underclassmen on the biggest stage for the first time.
“We’ve never done that to a team like Flint Hamady, and I really commend my young group,” Brown said. “They’ve been preparing for this, we’ve talked about it, and as we’ve went through the season … I told them it was all in preparation for today. I always told them I don’t want to hear people say we’re talented; I want to hear them say how hard we play.”
Brown, also the school’s athletic director, had to know what she had coming this winter and scheduled appropriately. DEPSA opened 9-0, with a one-point win over Southfield Arts & Technology, a Class A semifinalist this weekend.
But the No. 5-ranked Pioneers then ran into a tough spot, losing three of its next five to Class A power Detroit Martin Luther King and Class B contenders Detroit Country Day and Ypsilanti Arbor Prep. Sandwiched among those defeats, however, was a 43-39 win over Hamady, which made its third Semifinal appearance of this decade Thursday and finished Class C runner-up in 2015.
That first Hawks loss to DEPSA on Jan. 31 was Hamady’s third straight after losing senior guard Krystal Rice for the season to a knee injury. Without Rice – who will continue her career at Indiana State University – the Hawks still managed to navigate a tournament run that included handing top-ranked Sandusky a 38-36 loss in the Regional Final.
“We didn’t give up on the season,” Hamady coach Keith Smith said. “We spent a lot of time watching film, spent a lot of time drilling on fundamentals, trying to tweak the little things we were not doing well and trying to be concerned on the details. (But) it caught up with us today to not have her, that extra senior who had played in a state final.”
Senior guard Deajah Cofield and freshman center Aryana Naylor both scored 10 points to lead Hamady, Cofield also totaling five steals and Naylor grabbing 10 rebounds.
With Rice out, Cofield was the only senior starter for Hamady, which finished the regular season unranked but ended up with a final record of 19-6.
Smith said he hadn't seen a team as talented as DEPSA with that many young players since his 2009 Class C championship team.
The Pioneers didn’t play like mostly underclassmen Thursday, just a team with a little bit of a chip on their collective shoulders and the talent to dominate the next two to three seasons as well.
“(People) said we’d lose to Sandusky, and they didn’t make it to us, and they said we’d lose to Blissfield by two,” Jackson said, noting the 16-point Quarterfinal win over the No. 10 Royals. “We’re just tired of people doubting us. We’re so young, we don’t have any seniors, and we just want to prove everyone wrong.”
Click for the full box score.
The Girls Basketball Finals are presented by Sparrow Health System.
PHOTOS: (Top) DEPSA's Gabrielle Elliott pushes the ball upcourt during her team's Class C Semifinal win. (Middle) Rickea Jackson works to get a hand on a shot by Flint Hamady's Danielle Tipton.