EAST LANSING – It took Lansing Catholic nearly three quarters to get going Saturday, but the Cougars flipped the switch just in time.
They never led until the closing seconds of the third quarter, but a 3-point barrage to open the fourth proved to be the difference in a 62-41 victory over previously-unbeaten Grand Rapids West Catholic in a Division 2 Semifinal at the Breslin Center.
“These kids are fighters,” said 10th-year Lansing Catholic coach Kacee Reid. “They take punches and they take punches and it looks like they’re down and out, but they come back. I never doubted that we were going to make a comeback tonight.”
Lansing Catholic (23-5) opened the final quarter with three consecutive triples from Gabby Halliwill, Anna Richards and Hannah Pricco to quickly turn a one-point deficit into an eight-point lead.
That run was just the start of a 32-10 scoring edge in the fourth quarter – turning that one-point deficit after three quarters into a 21-point victory.
The Cougars, who were in the Semifinals for the first time since 2004 and are seeking their first title since winning Class C in 1995, said playing one of the state’s most difficult regular-season schedules helped them prevail.
“Those tough games really prepared us,” said Lansing Catholic junior Anna Richards, who scored 17 of her game-high 28 points in the fourth quarter. “We’ve been down at halftime quite a few times, so we’ve learned we can come back from that.”
The Cougars, who won the Capital Area Activities Conference White, advance to take on Frankenmuth in the Division 2 title game at 6:15 p.m. Saturday.
West Catholic bolted out to a 15-4 lead early on and 17-6 by the end of the first quarter, but the Falcons struggled offensively for the rest of the night – scoring just three points in the second quarter, 11 in the third and 10 in the fourth.
One of the turning points came when Lansing Catholic switched to a 1-3-1 zone defense, which threw the Falcons out of rhythm.
West Catholic, which finished 26-1 with just three seniors, went through its longest power outage of the entire season at just the wrong time – going nearly 6 minutes without a point to open the fourth quarter.
“Those shots usually fall, and then they stopped falling,” said ninth-year West Catholic coach Jill VanderEnde, whose team is now 90-5 over the last four seasons. “We were unable to stop the bleeding fast enough.”
Senior Cadence Dykstra, who is headed to Division I Toledo next season, finished with a team-high 13 points and four rebounds. Reese Polega and Elisha Dykstra both scored nine points, and Emma Tuttle added six points and six rebounds.
Once the Cougars grabbed the lead early in the fourth quarter, they put the game away with an impressive showing at the free-throw line. Lansing Catholic made 27-of-33 free throws (82 percent), compared to 7-of-14 (50 percent) for West Catholic.
Another key to the win was rebounding, as the Cougars held a 32-22 edge on the boards and allowed very few second chances.
Lansing Catholic has now won 22 in a row, with its last loss coming in the sixth game of the season against Grafton Midview (Ohio). West Catholic hadn’t lost in almost a full calendar year, dating back to last year’s Division 2 title game against Detroit Edison.
The Cougars showed that remarkable composure and focus despite being a junior-led team. Five of the six players that Reid brought to the postgame press conference were juniors, with the only senior being Pricco.
“These girls are pretty composed,” Reid said. “We don’t get rattled too often, and that really showed tonight.”
Leah Richards scored 14 points with a game-high nine rebounds, Halliwill scored nine points and Pricco added five points and eight rebounds.
PHOTOS (Top) Lansing Catholic celebrates its Division 2 Semifinal victory Friday night at Breslin Center. (Middle) The Cougars’ Leah Richards (22) and West Catholic’s Reese Polega (32) contend for the opening tip-off.