By Paul Costanzo
Special for Second Half
GRAND RAPIDS – Detroit Country Day senior Kaela Webb dribbled out the clock Saturday on a hard-fought Class B title game against Jackson Northwest, and a smile overtook her face.
She looked over at her coach, Frank Orlando, who was about to celebrate his 13th MHSAA title at the school, and her smile grew wider.
She looked at her classmates, Maxine Moore and Destini Lewis, who with her have been at Country Day for three titles, and triumphantly tossed the ball into the air, finishing off the 64-48 victory.
“I just looked over at Max, Destini and Coach O, and I couldn’t do anything but smile,” Webb said. “We just never thought about winning three state championships, but we came in hungry and wanted to continue that. This team was so special because we had to find our own identity. We had to pick up where we left off last year from losing a valuable asset on both sides of the floor, so we knew we had to work even harder than we had the year before.”
The championship was the second straight for the Yellowjackets (23-4), who were making their 17th appearance in the title game, all coming under Orlando, who is the state’s all-time leader in girls basketball coaching victories (785).
Orlando didn’t say whether or not the 13th title would mark his final game at Country Day, but he did say that in the moment, it was just as sweet as the first.
“It’s a blessing -- I just feel like it’s a blessing,” Orlando said. “It’s these kids right here that gave me the blessing. If it has to go down in a certain way, I’ll give it to them.”
The three seniors have no choice but to move on, but they certainly left their mark on a program that was already incredibly rich with tradition.
“I’m so blessed and grateful, and I have to give it up to my teammates and especially Coach O for instilling a tremendous work ethic in all of us,” said Moore, who will play next year at Western Michigan. “In practice every day, this was our common goal, this is where we wanted to be. To have three of these, not a lot of people can say that. Me and Kaela and Destini, we’re so proud of our program, our coaches, everybody.”
Despite the 16-point margin of victory, the Yellowjackets had their hands full throughout with a Jackson Northwest (25-2) team making the program’s first appearance in the Finals. The Yellowjackets never trailed, and the game was tied for only five seconds before Webb opened with a 3-pointer from the corner. But the Mounties never went away.
“That was a dogfight, and I think our effort was anything a coach could ask for out of his players,” Jackson Northwest coach Ryan Carroll said. “I heard the radio announcer out of the corner of my ear say this was a David vs. Goliath matchup here tonight, and I don’t think it was that at all. Coming in, I didn’t think that’s what it was. They just knocked down some big shots, and we really shot ourselves in the foot when we had chances to get back into the game.
“I’m extremely proud of our effort and the way we showed up tonight and represented our school, I think, in the best possible fashion.”
It was a late Country Day run in the third quarter that finally put some distance between the teams, and it came with star guard Jasmine Powell on the bench with four fouls.
The Mounties had cut the lead to five points, but 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions from Lewis and Maddie Novak pushed the lead to 11 heading into the fourth quarter.
“They were huge,” said Webb, who will play collegiately at Providence next season. “When Jasmine got in foul trouble, Coach O was basically telling me to take over, so I knew at that point that I had to go. They were closing in on the lead, they were starting to have another run and I knew that I had to do everything in my power to prevent it. That contributed to getting my teammates involved, because they started to plug in on me, then (Lewis and Novak) knocked down the open 3s when we needed it.”
Powell still led the Yellowjackets in scoring with 19 points despite the foul trouble. Novak added 13 points, while Adrian Folks had 12 points and seven rebounds. Webb filled the stat sheet with 11 points, seven assists and six steals. As a team, Country Day had 15 steals on the night.
“If I’ve got Kaela on my side, that’s all I want,” Orlando said. “She’s a fighter, she’s a coach, she knows the game and she plays it with her heart. If anybody can do it, Kaela can, and I respect that.”
Sydney Shafer led Jackson Northwest with 22 points, including some deep 3-pointers, and eight rebounds. Ella Bontrager added 10 points for the Mounties, who were playing in front of what felt like a home crowd.
“Seeing all the parents there that aren’t just our parents, but that were community members and (parents of) people that we go to school with, it was really awesome to see them here,” Jackson Northwest senior Carsyn Sleight said. “Here supporting not just their kids, but their community.”
Click for the full box score.
PHOTOS: (Top) Detroit Country Day players celebrate their Class B championship Saturday night at Van Noord Arena. (Middle) Adrian Folks works to get a shot in the post while walled off by Jackson Northwest defenders.