By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
EAST LANSING – Just about every team that reaches an MHSAA championship game and leaves with a runner-up trophy makes plans, rather immediately, to return the following season and finish the title run.
Easier said than done, obviously. But Saginaw Nouvel gave itself no other option.
After falling by just five points in last season’s Class C Final to Manchester, the Panthers will get another chance Saturday to finish with a win for the first time since 2008.
Nouvel defeated Gobles in Thursday’s first Semifinal at the Breslin Center, 47-35, to earn an opportunity to face St. Ignace for the championship at 4 p.m. Saturday.
“It was hard. We almost expected it of ourselves. It was implied,” said Nouvel senior center Rachel McInerney of making another Breslin run. “We came into every game knowing we were going to win, and not leaving until we had won.”
The Panthers have made good on that aspiration more times than not this season, moving to 21-4 Thursday after chipping away quarter by quarter to finish ahead by a comfortable margin and hand Gobles (26-1) its lone loss.
Nouvel’s four-point advantage during the fourth quarter was its largest of any period. Neither team set Breslin aflame from an offensive standpoint – Nouvel shot only 25 percent from the floor and Gobles just 29.
But the Panthers managed a 48-37 rebounding edge, and with three seniors, maybe a slight edge in comfort with the big stage as Gobles was making its first trip to the Semifinals in program history.
First-half performance hasn’t been a strength this season – but Nouvel gutted out a 21-15 halftime lead and never trailed over the final 27 minutes of the game.
Sophomore guard Laurel Jacqmain led the Panthers with 20 points, and three teammates scored at least seven. But McInerney – who averages nearly 12 per game – had just three points although she did grab a team-high eight rebounds.
“Our team depth is so incredible. When Rachel isn’t scoring, we have other people who can step up,” Nouvel first-year coach Mary Jo Skiendziel said. “I’m so proud of how they play and come together, and pick her up until hopefully she can start scoring again.”
Gobles senior Michaela DeKilder just about hit her averages with 15 points and eight rebounds to finish a career that included leading her team to a combined 46-4 record over the last two seasons.
Coach John Curtis mentioned after that this was the group the Gobles community expected to make the school's first trip to the Semifinals, and the Tigers came through after also winning their second Regional title ever a week ago.
“Going through the other teams I’ve been on, this was completely different,” DeKilder said. “Yeah, we all liked each other (before), but this team all loved each other, and that was completely different. It wasn’t just for yourself, it was for everyone on the team.
“Making it to Breslin was the biggest accomplishment we’ve ever made. For me, when I walked into the gym, it hit me hard.”
She’s one of only two seniors graduating from a team that also had seven sophomores.
“We told the girls, our big thing is we want to be a regular here,” Curtis said. “We see St. Ignace here, see Nouvel, and I told (DeKilder) in the lockerroom they laid the foundation.
“We return nine girls next year, and hopefully next year we’ll be in a situation that’s not just, ‘Oh, we’re here.” We might play a little bit better, and we might just handle this situation a little bit better.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Saginaw Nouvel's Laurel Jacqmain (44) tries to get around a Gobles defender Thursday. (Middle) Nouvel's Lindsay Stroebel blocks the way for Gobles' Sharyena Hunt.
HIGHLIGHTS: (1) Jacqmain drives the lane for two of her game-high 20 points for Saginaw Nouvel in its 47-35 Class C Semifinal win over Gobles. (2) Michaela DeKilder led Gobles with 15 points. Here she gets two first-quarter points on a nice feed from Haley Rock.