By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
EAST LANSING – Absolutely, Ypsilanti Arbor Prep has noticed differences playing in Class B this season after winning the Class C title a year ago.
As expected, it’s tougher. There’s structure, more athletes. The Gators still pride themselves on suffocating defense, but at times it’s hasn’t been as bothersome against some of these new opponents.
And yet, the results have been the same – if not better.
Arbor Prep entered the postseason ranked No. 1 in Class B, and it remains undefeated after handing previously-undefeated and No. 5-ranked Freeland its first and only loss 54-46 in Friday’s last Semifinal at the Breslin Center.
The Gators now have won 36 straight games and will try to finish a perfect run against No. 2 Detroit Country Day in Saturday’s 6 p.m. championship game.
“It’s our last time playing together, and we just want to make it as special as we can,” Gators senior guard Ro’zhane Wells said. “And that’s winning the state championship. There’s no other way to go out than that.”
“Like Ro’zhane said, we’ve won the state championship. What better way to go? 28-0?” senior Adrienne Anderson added. “So that’s what we’re going for, and that’s our goal.”
Two teams had that goal Friday, with the assurance the season would end for one of them. Freeland’s strengths – especially outside shooting – were almost enough to send the Falcons (26-1) on instead.
Their 46 points were the second-most Arbor Prep (27-0) has given up this season despite facing a schedule that has included Class A finalist Flushing, another Class A power in Muskegon Mona Shores and a pair of ranked Class B teams during the playoffs in No. 3 Williamston and No. 8 Ida. Only Dearborn Heights Robichaud, with 54 in a four-point District Final loss to the Gators, put up more points against them.
Freeland made nine 3-pointers on 23 tries and shot better than 40 percent in two quarters, finishing just under 40 percent from the floor for the game. Leading Falcons scorer, senior guard Jessica Piper, made 6 of 9 shots including three 3-pointers on the way to 18 points.
But Arbor Prep’s defense did make a difference when it came to possessing the ball. The Gators took advantage of 21 Freeland turnovers, while giving the ball up only 10 times.
Still, a Piper 3-pointer pulled the Falcons to within 49-46 with 2:31 to play. At 5:55, they trailed Arbor Prep by 13.
“We’re like, we’re a good 3-point shooting team. We needed to get the 3 off, and the shots started falling; they didn’t fall the rest of the game,” Piper said. “And we looked at each other and we’re down by six. And we’re like, that’s two 3s, just look to shoot. We got it down to three at the end and almost pulled it off.”
Arbor Prep made five free throws down the stretch as Freeland had two turnovers and missed two shots.
“I knew we would never give up. We came out, I think we were a little hesitant, maybe a little nervous,” Freeland coach Tom Zolinski said. “(But) this team at any point could score 20 points in five minutes, and I think that’s half the reason we didn’t give up. We knew our firepower and what we were able to do.”
Wells had 14 points and six steals to lead Arbor Prep, and Anderson and Williams both added 10 points, with Anderson grabbing eight rebounds.
There are certainly some similarities as well between this run and Arbor Prep’s last two to Breslin (the Gators made the Class C Semifinals in 2015). They aren’t fazed by the stage, the different shooting perspective and other differences that might throw off first-time finalists – which should put them on at least even footing from that perspective with a Country Day team they know plenty about from playing against and with many of those players growing up.
“The girls believe they can play against anybody,” said Arbor Prep coach (and Ro’zhane’s father) Rod Wells. “We don’t really look at the jersey of the other team. We just think we can beat anybody. The girls still don’t get the attention they deserve. But they work extra hard, and you’ve got to respect that. I’ll probably never get a group (again) that works this hard.”
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PHOTOS: (Top) Arbor Prep’s Lasha Petree stops Freeland’s Jenna Gregory (11) during Friday’s Class B Semifinal. (Middle) The Gators’ Cydney Williams (20) puts pressure on a driving Alyssa Argyle.