By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
EAST LANSING – The way Canton wins would be easy to overlook, if not for the key word in that statement.
It’s become impossible to ignore the defensive-minded Chiefs, who entered this postseason as only an honorable mention in the final Associated Press Class A poll – and advanced to their first MHSAA Final on Friday at the Breslin Center.
Canton prides itself on defense, giving up only 28 points per game this season.
And the Chiefs made that average stick in handing No. 4 Grand Ledge a 35-28 defeat to advance to Saturday’s championship game against Bloomfield Hills Marian.
“Sometimes we haven’t been thought of as a leading team or whatever, underestimated,” Canton senior center Taylor Hunley said. “It’s great to work so hard to make the final day of the season and be able to spend as much time with each other as possible.”
The Chiefs just missed advancing to the Class A championship games in both 2009 and 2010. But this team is different in that its run is a bit unexpected.
Canton’s only losses were to Marian, Mercy, and a couple more contenders in Grosse Pointe South and Waterford Mott. But it was lack of flashiness in their wins that maybe made this team easier to forget – and yet now, unforgettable.
“We always talk about playing on the last day. The first two (Canton) teams that came, that was sort’ve expected because they were ranked in the top three all year and there was a lot of pressure to get here,” Canton coach Brian Samulski said. “These guys have really been able to enjoy this run they’ve put us on. There’s no real pressure. No one talked about them. But we refuse to lose and keep plugging away, and go from there.”
The first few minutes Friday ended up a good indicator of what was to come; Grand Ledge scored the game’s first basket, but not until more than three minutes had been played.
The Comets entered the week with three players averaging double figures scoring – senior sisters Hannah (15 ppg) and Lindsay Orwat (13.4) and 6-foot-3 junior Cori Crocker (10.7). As a team, Grand Ledge averaged nearly 58 points per game before Friday.
But the trio combined for only 21 points, led by Lindsay Orwat’s nine.
“Me and my sister love to shoot off ball screens, but they were right there in our faces,” Hannah Orwat said. “We’d dump it in to Cori, and there would be five girls on her. We couldn’t get in a flow.”
The teams identically took 39 shots, both making 11. But whereas Canton has been used to this kind of game, the Chiefs could sense by the second quarter that the Comets were getting frustrated.
They were knotted 19-19 heading into the fourth quarter before Hunley and senior Paige Aresco keyed an 8-0 run that seemingly put this low-scoring game out of reach for Grand Ledge.
“A lot of great teams are focused on offense, offense, offense. And then they come up against us,” Aresco said. “We’ve done a great job shutting them down, and it’s been kinda shocking for them, I think.”
The Comets, who will graduate six players, were in their first Semifinal appearance. They finished 24-3.
“This group of Grand Ledge girls has been going to school together their whole lives, and we kept focusing on that as the year went on,” Grand Ledge coach David Jones said. “Experiencing this together, being together, we’re proud of accomplishing getting this far. And a lot of the credit goes to this senior class.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Canton’s Paige Aresco (14) works to drive against Grand Ledge’s Hannah Orwat. (Middle) Orwat searches for an open teammate as two Chiefs converge.
HIGHLIGHTS: (1) Grand Ledge grabs a 17-15 third-quarter lead against Canton on a pull-up jumper by Lindsay Orwat. (2) Canton scored the first eight points of the fourth quarter to break the game open. This layup by Aresco starts the run.