EAST LANSING – No one from this season’s Saginaw team had played in an MHSAA Semifinals before this weekend. That’s saying something, given how the Trojans have made Breslin Center a regular March destination over the last two decades.
After a slow start Friday, they looked at home once more.
Saginaw made just 19 percent of its first-quarter shots, but then 51 percent the rest of the game to cruise into its first Final since 2008 with a 59-46 win over Macomb L’Anse Creuse North.
“(Breslin) was real big, and we had to get the feel of the court for the first quarter,” Saginaw senior Davario Gaines said. “After we got the feeling of the court, we started playing at our level.”
Saginaw (25-2), ranked No. 1 at the end of the regular season, will take on Rockford in the Class A Final at 4 p.m. Saturday.
The Trojans have been to the Semifinals eight times in the last 17 seasons and have won five MHSAA championships total during their history.
A lot of those teams – with guys like Draymond Green and Anthony Roberson of late – were led by big-time stars. But this Saginaw team is a little bit different.
Only two players have averaged at least 10 points per game this season, and none more than 15. Junior Julian Henderson scored a team-high 11 on Friday, with six teammates adding between six and nine.
“We’ve got a bunch of players that can step up at any time,” Saginaw first-year coach Julian Taylor said. “We’ve got a lot of interchangeable kids that have accepted the team concept. They are playing for each other, playing for team pride. That’s what we’re all about.”
L’Anse Creuse North, meanwhile, was making its first Semifinal appearance Friday and finished 10-11 just a year ago. Junior guard Tyler Conklin scored a game-high 22 points, and junior forward Ramone Griffin added 10 and nine rebounds.
This season came with an especially difficult moment for the Crusaders. District athletic supervisor Dave Jackson, who previously had served as the L’Anse Creuse North principal, died unexpectedly in mid-February. The basketball team became a rallying point amid the mournful times that followed.
“The biggest thing we experienced today with the send-off and community, the staff and our administration; it’s been a rough emotional ride, but we were able to create some diversion with this basketball run,” Crusaders coach Jay Seletsky said. “To bring the community together and see this support that we can have, and with a little diversion (from) emotional things, it’s been awesome. Besides the outcome, I wouldn’t have changed it for the world.”
“We worked hard for it every day in practice,” Conklin said. “We’re all going to keep our heads up, work all offseason and come back next season and try to make it this far.”
PHOTO: Saginaw junior forward Julian Henderson swats a L'Anse Creuse North shot during Friday's Semifinal. (Photo courtesy of Terry McNamara Photography.)