By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
EAST LANSING – They could make left-handed layups as second graders. That just doesn’t happen. This was bound to be a special group.
Chris Hodos made that observation and prediction a decade ago, five seasons before taking over the Pittsford girls basketball program. He proved to be quite right – but never could’ve expected to say good-bye Saturday to a senior class including the most victorious pair in MHSAA girls basketball history.
The Wildcats finished a second straight Class D championship run Saturday and extended a two-season winning streak to 55 straight victories with a 71-31 title clincher over Saginaw Michigan Lutheran Seminary at the Breslin Center.
Pittsford students chanted “automatic” after Maddie Clark’s first basket of the fourth quarter, and the Wildcats nearly have been the last four seasons. Four seniors played their last game Saturday morning – Clark, Jaycie Burger, Katelyn Kafer and Katie Clement – and after tying the record in Thursday’s Semifinal, Clark and Burger ended their careers 103-2 over their four varsity seasons – and with the MHSAA girls basketball record for career victories.
“I’m just so thankful to have been able to do this with all my best friends in the whole world. I love this team so much,” Burger said. “I’m sad this is our last game ever in a Pittsford uniform, but I wouldn’t have wanted it to go any other way. A running block in the state championship is pretty special, and I’m just happy that I got to take part in that. It’s sad, but it’s happy.”
This season’s Pittsford team finished 28-0, to go with a 27-0 record in 2015-16. The Wildcats fell in overtime to St. Ignace in the Class D championship game to close 2014-15, as their only loss of 2013-14 came in a Class C District Final to Adrian Madison.
Clark was named Class C Player of the Year this winter by The Associated Press, and Burger also was selected to the all-state first team. Both started during all three trips to Breslin, and Kafer saw the floor briefly in both the 2015 and 2016 Finals before starting Saturday.
“They’re winners up and down the line,” Hodos said. “They’re all 4.0 students, or close to it. We were academic all-state as a team last year and we’ll be close again this year. They’re all active in the community; they do a lot of good things off the court. They’re not just winners on the basketball court.”
As Burger drove into the lane two minutes in, saw the defense shift toward her and dropped a pass to an open Clark under the basket for two points, it was surely familiar to anyone who has followed the final weekend of girls basketball the last few years. Clark and Burger combined to score their team’s first 11 points against the Cardinals and 14 total during the first quarter as Pittsford took a 16-6 lead into the second.
Certainly to its credit, MLS (18-10) stuck within 10 of the Wildcats past the middle of the second quarter – something many teams have not been able to accomplish the last few seasons. And it was a memorable weekend as well for a Cardinals program that played in both its first Semifinal and championship game.
MLS kept within 30-17 heading into halftime. But Pittsford came out on a 26-6 run during the third quarter and pushed the lead further in the fourth.
Junior guard Reese VanLue led MLS with 13 points and nine rebounds.
“I’m definitely proud of our team. We achieved so much,” Cardinals senior center Rylee Pankow said. “It really does actually hurt, but we let our light shine on the court. It may not have been the score we wanted it to be, but I think we’re a better team than that but we didn’t play our best today.”
“We have a great group of leaders on this team. They played for each other all season, and they kept battling and battling,” MLS coach Brian Blaine added. “Our goal was to make a tournament run, and I know it hurt for these girls because they didn’t want it to end. But definitely when they get some time to take a look at this, they’ll realize it’s been a pretty magical run.”
Clark (29) and Burger (27) scored 56 of their team’s 71 points before coming off the court together as the clock ran under 30 seconds. Clark made 11 of 15 shots from the floor and all seven of her free throws, and also grabbed 10 rebounds. Burger added three assists and three steals, and junior guards Sydni Brunette and Marissa Shaw had six and four steals, respectively. Shaw finished this winter with 175 steals, tied for sixth most in MHSAA history for one season.
“We know our roles as a team,” Clark said. “I know a couple times Sydni had a wide-open look but she passed it to Jaycie because Jaycie was feeling it. We’re very unselfish and we know what our roles are, and that’s very important. And these girls are really special. … These last two seasons we have been perfect, and that doesn’t happen very often. And I’m thankful for my team, because they make me a better player.”
To answer again a question that’s been frequently asked this weekend, Pittsford is located southeast of Hillsdale and just west of U.S. 127, about 12 miles from the Ohio border.
The high school has a few more than 200 students, and friendships go back generations – this team certainly adding to that bond.
“We’re a pretty close group. Jaycie’s dad didn’t go to Pittsford, but him and I were friends in high school – actually, we hated playing against each other, but we loved it,” Hodos said. “And Mad’s dad and I were good friends in high school.
“And a lot of the other girls too; it started in kindergarten, and they’ve grown so much.”
Click for the full box score.
PHOTOS: (Top) Pittsford’s players, coaches and fans celebrate at the end of Saturday’s Class D championship game win. (Middle) The Wildcats’ Jaycie Burger maneuvers to put up a shot over Michigan Lutheran Seminary’s Rylee Pankow.