By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
EAST LANSING – Warren Cousino girls basketball coach Mike Lee saw a lot of his 2016 team in watching Flushing move past his current contender during Friday’s first Class A Semifinal at the Breslin Center.
The Patriots had stormed to their first MHSAA championship a year ago seemingly out of nowhere with an awe-inspiring run that remained the talk into this season.
Just as unheralded entering these playoffs, Flushing is one win way from accomplishing a similar feat after getting past Cousino and Miss Basketball finalist Kierra Fletcher 52-36.
The Semifinal was the Raiders’ first since 1976, and Saturday’s noon championship game against East Kentwood will be the program’s first appearance on the season’s final day.
“I felt that at the beginning we knew we were going to have to get respect,” Flushing senior forward Bre Perry said. “After we got out of the District, people were doubting us, but I felt that if we just stuck together, we’d be just fine. Because we know each other well, we play together as a team really well, we always have each other’s backs … (and) I knew if we stuck together, we’d be able to get very far.”
The Raiders really have been together for a while. They’ve played on the same teams since middle school, and Perry and seniors Kamryn Chappell and Lauren Newman are four-year varsity starters. Senior Carson Wilson joined them as a sophomore, and over the last three seasons the team is 66-7 with three league and two District titles plus the Regional championship won last week.
Flushing (23-3) didn’t lose a game during the Flint Metro League season, and its losses were to Class A top-five teams Saginaw Heritage and Midland Dow early and Class B No. 1 Ypsilanti Arbor Prep at the end of the regular season. The Raiders avenged that loss over Dow in the Regional Final and have broken opponents with a balanced offense and stifling defense that has given up 40 points in a game only three times.
“When you’ve never been here you’re certainly never overconfident in your ability to get here,” Flushing coach Larry Ford said of Breslin. “But watching these guys prior to seventh and eighth grade, and in middle school and then when they got into high school, this is the most athletic team I’ve ever coached in my 13 years as head coach at Flushing. Then they’ve got basketball skills to go with it, and they work so well together.”
Ford thought last year’s team was capable of making this run, but Perry – who will play next season at Temple University – tore a knee ligament and was lost for the end of the season.
And besides, 2015-16 belonged to Cousino and Fletcher, who enjoyed a similar under-the-radar status on the way to Breslin – but didn’t surprise anyone this winter.
Cousino entered the postseason ranked No. 2, and Fletcher – who will play at Georgia Tech – averaged 22.7 points, 13 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 5.2 steals and 2.1 blocks per game entering this week. She put up 30 points in Friday’s Semifinal despite being taken to the floor by a painful cramp just more than a minute into the second half.
But by then, Flushing already had set the tone.
The Raiders rode a 9-1 run over the end of the first quarter and start of the second and led by 13 at halftime. They scored one fewer point in the first quarter than Cousino did over the first two – and locked down the Patriots aside from Fletcher’s heroic run.
She scored all but one of Cousino’s 12 field goals. Minus Fletcher, Cousino made only one of 29 shots from the field as Wilson in particular led the suffocating effort.
Flushing doesn’t have a player averaging more than 12 points per game, but Perry led in this one with 16 points and seven rebounds, with Newman scoring 14 points and junior Shelby Morrow adding 13.
Cousino admittedly knew this year’s run would be tougher, and the Patriots were up to the challenge winning a strong Macomb Area Conference Red before extending their MHSAA Tournament run to 14 straight wins.
“What this group was able to do over two years, from everyone pronouncing our name wrong … to this point, it was about remembering our name. No matter if the team was 1-19 we were facing that night or 20-0, we were going to get everyone’s best effort,” Lee said. “And (our players) knew that.”
“I feel a lot of pride. We didn’t end the season exactly the way we wanted to, but I wouldn’t have written this any other way,” Fletcher added. “Last year what we did was amazing. I think this year it’s even more amazing that we got back because people thought last year was a fluke. We used that as motivation to help us get back to Breslin. … Most people don’t get here once, so getting here twice is even better.”
The only championship banner hanging in Flushing’s gym celebrates the 1977 girls golf title. Every practice Newman noticed it, and figured there should be a basketball team up there as well.
These Raiders have their chance to become the first.
“It would be really special to be able to look back and say we went from seventh grade, to eighth grade, ninth, 10th, 11th, and we’ve been together this long and get to win this all together after all that time,” Perry said. “It would be amazing, after college, when we get back in touch (and say), ‘Remember when we got that ring?’”
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PHOTOS: (Top) Flushing's Kamryn Chappell works to get past Warren Cousino’s Aubrey Fetzer (5) on Friday. (Middle) Cousino’s Kierra Fletcher looks for an open teammate.