Girls Basketball Sensational Semifinals

MHSAA Semifinals Produce Some of the Tournament’s Most Classic Confrontations

March Magic in December. The girls basketball tournaments have provided thrills since their arrival in the winter of 1973. The past 25 years have included some heart-stopping semifinal matchups. Here are a handful:

Hopkins 45, Kalamazoo Christian 44 — Class C, Friday, December 12, 1975 at East Grand Rapids High School
Hopkins hit five of its first seven shots following the intermission, rapidly increasing a 23-22 halftime lead to a 39-28 margin over Kalamazoo Christian. But the Comets, who had never trailed in second halves throughout the tournament, battled back beh ind the solid shooting of Carol Manni and Debbie Lemmer. A Manni basket gave Kalamazoo Christian a slim 44-43 lead with 1:20 to play, but Hopkins responded with a Sue Maher layup with 35 seconds left to give the Vikings the victory and a trip to the fin als.

Grand Rapids West Catholic 52, Flint Beecher 51 (2 OT) — Class B, Friday, December 14, 1979 at Lansing Waverly High School

In 1978, Flint Beecher had made it to the Class B Final by defeating Grand Rapids West Catholic in the semifinals. This time, West Catholic seemed intent on revenge, building a 41-27 lead with six minutes to play. But Beecher rallied with a 20-6 run, f orcing the game to overtime on a court-length pass from Shelly Sparks to Diana Wiley that Wiley swiftly deposited into the basket with two seconds to play. The Lady Bucs grabbed their first lead of the game, 49-47, on Sabrina Young’s layup with 57 seco nds remaining in the extra frame. The Falcons tied the game again on a Kathy Grzegorski bucket with 35 seconds to go. The Lady Bucs missed on a final attempt, and the teams went to a second overtime. Grzegorski, who finished with a game-high 29 point s, nailed another basket for the Falcons, but Sparks countered for Beecher with a pair of free throws to tie the game, 51-51, with 50 seconds left in the second overtime. Grzegorski added a free throw nine seconds later to put West Catholic up by the fi nal score of 52-51, as the Falcons held off numerous Beecher chances in the final seconds.


White Cloud 51, Benzie Central 50 — Class C, Friday, December 10, 1982 at Farmington High School
White Cloud opened up a seven-point lead at the half, pushed the margin to 14 at the end of three quarters of play, then held off a furious Benzie Central rally. The Huskies, led by Vonnie Shimp, Shelly Nowak, Quinn LaFleur and Dawn Cady, cut the lead t o 10 in the first three minutes of the fourth quarter, then to four points, 43-39, with just over three minutes to play. Bonnie Stockopf hit a free throw to stop the Benzie run, and Cheri Cane added two more for the Indians at the 2:25 mark, but the gir ls from Benzie didn’t let up. Baskets by Shimp and LaFleur gave the Huskies their first lead of the day, 48-46 with 54 seconds to play. The teams exchanged free throws and Benzie still led 50-48 with 25 seconds remaining. White Cloud allowed 16 second s to tick off the clock before Tracey Alger found Teresa Harvatich underneath the basket. The Indians’ leading scorer tied the game at 50, and was fouled on the way up. Following a Benzie Central timeout, Harvatich sank the shot from the charity stripe to win the ball game, giving White Cloud its first trip to the finals.


Frankenmuth 43, Grand Rapids Christian 42 — Class B, Friday, December 11, 1987 at Jenison High School
“We don’t have any plays on offense,” said Frankenmuth coach Art Pelzer following the contest. “We just free-lance or play street ball. When somebody gets open, they shoot.” Tied 22-22 at halftime, Pelzer’s unbeaten Eagles clung to a slim lead for muc h of their match with Grand Rapids Christian. Christian forward Cathy Vos was surrounded for much of the game, as Frankemuth’s disciplined zone defense took control. Vos hit two of her 16 points on a jumper to give Christian its first lead 40-39, at th e 1:52 mark of the fourth quarter. The stage was set for a frantic finish. Each team committed two turnovers before Laura Butman scored on a short shot to reclaim the lead for Frankenmuth. But Michelle VanZee nailed a driving jumper with 19 seconds to put Christian back on top. Frankenmuth’s Stephanie Larges had the final word, however, as her 15-footer with eight seconds left dropped through the hoop for a dramatic victory.


St. Joseph 41, Wayland 40 — Class B, Friday, December 1, 1989 at Jenison High School
Trailing 39-32 with less than two minutes to play, the top-ranked Wildcats of Wayland looked finished. Desperate, they began to foul anyone. The strategy worked as the Wildcats stormed back. Julie Ainsworth hit a basket from inside and Heather Klinge nailed a trey. Then, with nine second remaining, Missy Bratsburg drilled another three-pointer, and Wayland led, 40-39. St. Joseph senior Tracey Bloodworth, the team’s leading scorer, stormed up the court, ignored the pleas of her father, Coach Rick Bloodworth for a timeout, and fed Liz Vernasco a perfect pass for the game-winning layup in a wild finish, as Wayland’s last-ditch half-court shot bounced off the rim.


Frankenmuth 60, St. Joseph 51 in OT —Class B, Friday, December 3, 1993 at Kellogg Arena, Battle Creek
In a rematch of the 1992 MHSAA Class B Final, Frankenmuth jumped out to a 28-22 halftime lead over St. Joseph, then extended the margin to nine points, 31-22, early in the third quarter. The Bears rebounded with strong shooting by Peyton Brown and Kim D ykstra to take a 42-41 lead entering the final frame. Despite losing starting center Mary Kaye Lutz to fouls early in the quarter, the Eagles fought back and opened a 51-47 lead with 3:49 to play. St. Joseph’s Kim Knuth found the hoop on two occasions in the final minutes to force the game into overtime knotted at 51. Frankenmuth’s tenacious defense forced four turnovers, completely shutting down the Bears’ offense in the extra frame. Coach Art Pelzer’s team scored nine points and coasted to victor y. Pelzer, a 1959 graduate of St. Joseph, would retire one day later as the MHSAA’s all-time leader in girls basketball victories (423-44) following a 50-43 loss to Dearborn Divine Child in the Finals


Crystal Falls-Forest Park 45, Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes 44 — Class D, Thursday, November 30, 1995 at Kellogg Arena, Battle Creek
Coach Jerry Hautala and his staff of assistants had made the promise to wear red tuxedos if his Crystal Falls-Forest Park squad made it to the MHSAA Finals. The main obstacle was a top-ranked squad from Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes in the semifinal g ame. With 13 seconds left, Waterford’s Katie Knake nailed her second straight trey to give the Lakes a one-point lead, 44-43. The Trojans called timeout, and discussed the play. With a single tick remaining on the clock, heavily defended sophomore Jul ie Hautala—Jerry’s daughter—nailed a seven-footer to give Crystal Falls a heart-stopping victory, and Coach Hautala a new suit. “They said, ‘Coach, you made a promise,’ so we stopped at a shop down here and had them flown in from Arkansas,” said Hautala about the staff’s attire during the team’s Final appearance. “I like to wear blue jeans and a T-shirt myself.”


Birmingham Marian 48, Grand Rapids Christian 47 — Class A, Thursday, December 6, 1996 at Kellogg Arena, Battle Creek
Grand Rapids Christian had notched 26 consecutive victories, including a quarterfinal win over top-ranked and two-time defending champion Flint Northern. This time, however, the Eagles found themselves trailing Birmingham Marian by seven points, 48-41, with 1:09 to go. Christian’s Karen Deurloo scored a basket and a pair of free throws, while teammate Katie Dykhouse added a bucket with 31 seconds left to cut the margin to a single point. Marian, which failed to score on its final four possessions of the contest, left Deurloo open for a shot from eight feet out with only seconds remaining, but the ball did not fall. Brooke Gallert’s put-back of the shot at the buzzer also missed, and Marian escaped the flurry with a thrilling victory.

—Ron Pesch

Ron Pesch is the historian for the MHSAA. Story ideas and potential statistical records submissions are always welcome. Write to Pesch at 1447 Henry Street, Muskegon, MI 49441.