By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
GRAND RAPIDS – East Lansing found itself playing in the Semifinals again Friday for the first time since 2010.
But the Trojans also found themselves in an unfamiliar situation with potentially only 16 minutes left in their season.
East Lansing entered halftime trailing Wayne Memorial by three points – the first time it hadn’t led at the end of the first half this season.
“That really gave us a shocker and gave us a reality check that we needed to come out and play hard,” Trojans senior Aazhenii Nye said. “This wasn’t how our season was going to end. We worked so hard to get here. And that’s what we did – we just picked each other up and knocked down some big shots.”
And advanced, thanks to a big third-quarter push, with a 60-52 win over the Zebras.
East Lansing (26-0) will play Saginaw Heritage at 12:15 p.m. Saturday at Van Noord Arena hoping to lock down its first Class A title since that 2010 run.
That team featured a Miss Basketball Award winner in Klarissa Bell, who went on to play at Michigan State. The Trojans entered this weekend fresh off the celebration for senior guard Jaida Hampton, this year’s winner.
But they also faced the challenge of taking on another finalist in Wayne senior guard Camree’ Clegg, who over the last three seasons had led a team that didn’t win a game before her arrival as a sophomore to its first Regional title and Semifinals this winter.
Clegg had 16 points, six rebounds and five assists Friday, while Hampton had seven points and nine rebounds. But the matchup was never as much about them individually as it was about East Lansing’s scrappy defense against a Zebras offense that had put up 73 on Detroit Country Day at the start of the season and 81 against a Plymouth team that finished second to Wayne in their league.
During the deciding third quarter, East Lansing made 9 of is 13 shots from the floor – including its first three – and held the Zebras to 3 of 13. The Trojans went on a 23-11 run and got up by as many as 12 before Clegg hit three free throws to close the period.
“I thought those kids played as hard as just about any team we’ve played against,” Wayne coach Jarvis Mitchell said. “Every film that we’ve watched; we’ve seen them live, we’ve seen them on tape. They’re always competing.”
“Going into the third quarter, sometimes we let off a little bit,” Hampton said. “But the last few games we’ve come out really strong because the beginning of the third quarter is the most important. That’s where you see how you’re going to play the rest of the game. … I’m really happy we did make our first few shots, because that gave us a boost of energy to push through and let it keep going through the third and fourth quarter.”
East Lansing pushed the lead to 14 a minute into the fourth quarter before Wayne fought back to get it to the final margin.
Junior guard Sammiyah Hoskin added 11 points and nine rebounds for the Zebras (22-5), who graduate only Clegg off this history-making team.
“Wayne, four years ago 0-20, and now we have the whole community coming out to see us,” Clegg said. “Especially driving two and a half hours (to Calvin), it’s a great feeling. We just wanted to keep it going.”
Senior Amelia McNutt led East Lansing with 20 points and four steals, while Nye added 11 points and six rebounds and junior sister Aaliyah Nye had 16 points and 10 rebounds.
East Lansing had peaked in the Quarterfinals three times since its 2010 title, most recently in 2016 when these seniors were sophomores.
“We’ve been together for four years and it started off pretty rough in terms of how we worked together, with our chemistry,” East Lansing coach Rob Smith said as he sat for the press conference with Hampton, McNutt and Aazhenii Nye. “And in the last four years, these ladies have grown up big-time. They’re three of the most amazing seniors I’ve ever coached. … Right from the get go, we’ve been speaking about this moment all season long.”
Click for the full box score.
PHOTOS: (Top) East Lansing’s Sanaya Gregory pushes the ball upcourt as Wayne’s Jeanae Terry defends. (Middle) Wayne’s Camree’ Clegg works to get space against the Trojans.