By Paul Costanzo
Special for Second Half
EAST LANSING – As the final seconds of his 12th MHSAA title run at Detroit Country Day ticked away, legendary coach Frank Orlando was serenaded as his school's student section chanted: “We love Coach O.”
Orlando acknowledged the fans, wiped away some tears, and moments later accepted the Class B girls basketball championship trophy along with a group of girls that were extra special to him. And after their 59-48 win against Ypsilanti Arbor Prep at the Breslin Center, they made it very clear that he’s extra special to them as well.
“This season, I really wasn’t thinking about the loss (in the 2016 Semifinals); for me personally, I was playing for Coach O,” Country Day senior Destiny Pitts said. “During the offseason last year after we lost, Coach O had a stroke, so it just kind of hit me hard. This season, I’ve been playing for him, and just knowing how important it is for him. Coming into this, we just had extreme confidence because we just knew we wanted to take the state championship back to Country Day for the fans and our community.”
Country Day’s 12th title came two years after No. 11, which was won with many of the same players as the latest triumph. That one came as a bit of a surprise to Orlando – this one brought out plenty of emotion.
“When we won it when they were sophomores and freshmen, I was excited and I was very happy – I was kind of surprised,” said Orlando, who opened the press conference by stating he planned to come back in 2017-18 for his 37th season at Country Day and 51st overall. “This year, it was more emotional because they’re leaving me now. I like that they’re going, don’t get me wrong, but it’s kind of sad for me.”
Country Day’s shooting effort was the opposite of sad, as the Yellowjackets hit 22 of 34 (64.7 percent) shots from the field, including 7 of 12 (58.3 percent) from 3-point range. Pitts led the way with 17 points and 10 rebounds, while Tylar Bennett had 15 points on 7 of 8 shooting, and Kaela Webb had 13 points and nine assists.
“I think we did that by moving the ball,” Pitts said. “We weren’t forcing shots, we would just keep swinging the ball until we found the open person, and I think each individual player on the team did extremely well sharing the ball, and when they were open they shot it.”
The Yellowjackets (26-1) led for most of the game, moving ahead late in the first quarter and never relinquishing the advantage. They jumped out to a 27-15 halftime lead, holding Arbor Prep to 5 of 24 (20.8 percent) shooting during the opening 16 minutes.
“I thought Country Day played a real good game,” Arbor Prep coach Rod Wells said. “They made a lot of shots, and first half we didn’t make shots, and it was just hard to make up that gap. I’m truly proud of my girls, my girls brought effort, but sometimes the ball just doesn’t fall that way.”
Arbor Prep (27-1), which won the Class C title a year ago, pushed back in the second half, but every time it looked to get momentum and cut into the Country Day lead, the Yellowjackets had an immediate answer.
Ro’zhane Wells hit a pair of 3s on back-to-back possessions, but Country Day responded with a jumper from Webb the first time and a 3 from Pitts after the second. A Lasha Petree 3-pointer cut the Country Day lead to 11 early in the fourth quarter, but Maxine Moore’s putback halted the momentum. Another Pitts’ 3 on Country Day’s next possession pushed the lead back to 16 with less than six minutes to play.
Arbor Prep cut the lead to nine twice with less than three minutes to play, Country Day responded with a pair of press-breaking layups from Bennett, the second sparking a 9-1 run that put the game away for good. Webb assisted on all but one of those baskets during the run, the other being a 3-pointer she drained from straightaway.
“We played a lot better in the second half,” Rod Wells said. “It took us a while to adjust to the zone. Country Day played us man in the beginning, then they went to the matchup zone and they gave us some problems until halftime. But I’m really proud of my girls, three losses in two seasons. We beat the Class A state champs and the Class C state champs; we just didn’t beat the Class B.”
Petree led Arbor Prep with 15 points and six rebounds, while Wells had 14 points. Adrienne Anderson added seven points and five assists for the Gators, who were making their third straight trip to Breslin and had won 36 straight games.
“I think it’s been a phenomenal run,” Anderson, a senior, said. “I think we’ve pushed each other the whole time, and we’ve had a lot of fun. I love these girls to death. Even after we leave we’re still going to be close, because these are my sisters. Every day in practice we worked hard. I feel like everybody left everything they could’ve done on the court. Country Day just made shots.”
Click for the full box score.
PHOTOS: (Top) Detroit Country Day’s Maxine Moore (44) battles Arbor Prep’s Lasha Petree for a loose ball during the Class B Final. (Middle) Yellowjackets Kaela Webb (left) and Destiny Pitts celebrate the program’s latest title with coach Frank Orlando.