By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
EAST LANSING – Their record alone – 102-2 – is simply incredible to consider.
And by the end of Saturday morning, Pittsford seniors Jaycie Burger and Maddie Clark could finish their careers alone as the winningest girls basketball players in Michigan high school history.
The Wildcats’ all-state duo tied former St. Ignace standout Kelley Wright (102-5 from 2011-14) for first on the MHSAA's varsity wins list with their team’s 57-39 Class D Semifinal victory Thursday over Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart.
And that set up one more history-making opportunity Saturday for a team that has put its small Hillsdale County town on the sports map. Top-ranked Pittsford will take on unranked Saginaw Michigan Lutheran Seminary in the Class D Final riding a two-season, 54-game winning streak as it looks to finish with a second straight Finals title.
“It’s, honestly, kind of unbelievable,” Burger said. “We come from a small town. No one had every heard of it before the first time we came here. Pittsford … tiny. Like Maddie said last year, we just got a Family Dollar, and that’s like the biggest news ever.
“So for us to be able to come here three years in a row and have the possibility to win a second state championship is just awe-inspiring. And I’m so thankful that I’ve been able to play this long with these girls and with my team, and I’m thankful to do something that’s this great.”
Pittsford will attempt that repeat finish at 10 a.m. Saturday. But getting the opportunity wasn’t as easy as showing up Thursday to what’s become a home court away from home.
Wildcats coach Chris Hodos called Sacred Heart the toughest team his has faced this season, and with good reason. The Irish, without a senior, fell to only 25-2 with the loss after playing in their third Semifinal in four seasons. Sacred Heart was Class D champion in 2015 and fell to Pittsford in the championship game last winter, 48-30.
The Irish led into the second quarter this time and tied the score again with two minutes to play in the first half – before the Wildcats scored the final five points of the half to slowly start to pull away.
“Very simple. Our gameplan was to attack the press and attack the basket,” Sacred Heart coach Damon Brown said. “The energy of putting pressure on them was something we really wanted to do. I think last year we were a little hesitant. I think we were caught up in the moment last year, but this year we were more aggressive. I loved how we played this year.”
Pittsford stifled Sacred Heart with defense and rebounding, forcing 28 turnovers while giving the ball up only 13 times and outrebounding the Irish 37-29 – including 21-5 on the offensive boards.
Clark led with 19 points and eight rebounds, and Burger had 14 points, seven rebounds and four assists. Junior guard Marissa Shaw chipped in eight points and eight steals – her 171 steals this season rank seventh in MHSAA history.
“Her anticipation is just off the hook,” Hodos said. “You can’t say enough about her. She made big baskets for us tonight. She makes some great passes.”
Sophomore guard Scout Nelson led Sacred Heart with 16 points, and junior forward Sophia Ruggles added eight points and five rebounds. As noted, Sacred Heart didn’t have a senior – the Irish were paced by six juniors, two sophomores and three freshmen.
“The locker room was a little bit different this year. There was some sadness, but the motivation and the energy to get back at it again and get back here next year has already started,” Brown said. “And that’s what I like, a group of girls who are committed to being the best team they can be. This is just a small hurdle that we’ll overcome.”
“I think it’s a big motivation for us,” Ruggles added. “Like he said, we’re all hungry to get back in the gym and compete, and it just adds a little fire to (our) want to get better.”
Meanwhile, Pittsford's four seniors, including forward Katelyn Kafer and guard Katie Clement, can cement their Breslin legacy with one last win.
And they're prepared to face the hype that will go with that historic opportunity.
"As long as we keep the same mentality we’ve had all year, just to play our game and execute our gameplan, we should be OK,” Burger said. “As long as we don’t let the hype that surrounds the state championship interfere with our team chemistry and our gameplan, I think that definitely should be OK.
“But it’s definitely going to be surreal feeling. It’s going to be the last time I’m out there with my girls. And it’s going to be, definitely, a game to remember.”
Click for the full box score.
PHOTOS: (Top) A pair of Pittsford defenders tie up Sacred Heart’s Sophie Ruggles during Thursday’s Class D Semifinal. (Middle) The Wildcats’ Maddie Clark (10) works to get a shot up over Grace Reetz (2).