P-W Earns Chance at 1st Championship

March 14, 2019

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

EAST LANSING – Pewamo-Westphalia always seems to be in the mix. The Pirates haven’t had a losing record since 1998-99, the last season before coach Luke Pohl returned to the program after two years away and led 19 straight winners.

Maybe last year’s seniors, coming off an 18-6 finish, wanted to provide their replacements with a little bit of additional motivation.

“Our seniors last year, pretty much all of our starters, were saying we’re not going to be good this year,” P-W senior Andre Smith said. “That we were actually going to be worse. That motivated us to all put in work over the offseason and get better.

“We were putting in a lot of work. But (to get) this far? I didn’t really think that much. But we’re here and we put in that much work, and it’s paid off.”

For the third time in its history, P-W has earned an opportunity to play for its first championship. The Pirates advanced to Saturday with a 60-45 Division 3 Semifinal win over Erie-Mason on Thursday at the Breslin Center.

P-W (27-0) will meet also-unbeaten Iron Mountain in the 4:30 p.m. championship game. It will be the program’s third appearance in the Final – the Pirates finished Class C runners-up in 1993 and 2014.

After another long football season – P-W finished 11-1 and made the Division 7 Regional Finals – a mostly new crew of basketball contributors worked to get up to speed before an opening night that also was a week earlier than usual this season.

To be honest, P-W may not have been even the favorite in the Central Michigan Athletic Conference – which produced three District champions this winter. But the Pirates downed favorite Dansville by 18 in their second game of the season, and Smith and his teammates knew then they might be on to something special – even if Pohl as well didn’t really expect to still be playing on the season’s last day.

“You just don’t know. You only have two starters back, but we’ve just jelled,” Pohl said. “We’ve done a lot of things well defensively, made it hard for offensive teams. We have great length, and a lot of guys have put in extra time. Andre took a huge jump, every guy took a huge jump. (So) I never dreamed that.”

It’s also likely no one expected the Pirates to jump out to a 15-0 start Thursday. But that wasn’t enough to count out Erie-Mason and particularly junior guard Joe Liedel.

The Eagles pulled all the way back to within a point at 23-22 with 2:20 to go in the first half as Liedel – who averaged 28.6 points per game this season – scored 14 of his game-high 31 during the comeback.

Another Liedel basket with 1:27 to play in the third quarter kept Erie-Mason only three points behind.  But Smith pushed the margin back to nine with the first basket of the fourth, and the Eagles made only 3-of-16 shots from the floor over the final period as P-W pulled away.

“A lot of times, those (big early leads) come back to bite you,” Pohl said. “I’ve seen it happen too many times; a team lets up little bit, starts to feel the pressure as the other team is coming back. … The guys persevered. They battled through this all year long, and I couldn’t be more proud of the way we ended up finishing.”

Junior forward Aaron Bearss finished with a team-high 16 points, nine rebounds and four blocks for P-W, and Smith had 14 points and nine rebounds. Senior forward Nathan Wirth grabbed nine rebounds as well as the Pirates won the boards 46-32.

Liedel had six rebounds and three assists to go with his 31 points, and senior center John Sweeney grabbed eight rebounds for Erie-Mason.

“My biggest thing is to keep getting better this offseason. I just want to keep taking everything we’ve done this year and be back here next year and be even better,” Liedel said.

Erie-Mason (23-3) made it to this final week by winning its first Regional title since 1973, one of many achievements as eighth-year coach Kevin Skaggs has built the program.

Two of his first three teams finished with sub-.500 records, but his last five all have been winners, with this one also earning the first league title of his tenure.

P-W was model of consistency that Skaggs, who came from the college ranks, used as something of a “benchmark” for the Erie-Mason program.

“When we got to Mason eight years ago, they had had only eight or nine winning seasons in 50 years of basketball,” Skaggs said. “I think this has been a continuous building project to get to this stage. It was not unexpected to get here. But what you can’t reproduce is the experiences that Pewamo has enjoyed. Those kids have watched the guys, when they were in elementary school, perform on this stage or at least get to the Regional Finals.

“Our guys are still in the process of they’ve created history. … They are creating the same things that the early teams that Luke coached during the late 90s and early 2000s (created).”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Pewamo-Westphalia’s Hunter Hengesbach (10) sets up the offense as Erie-Mason’s Joe Liedel defends. (Middle) Liedel gets a shot up over the Pirates’ Collin Trierweiler.

Little Provides Major Stride as 1st Woman to Officiate Boys Hoops Final since 1995

By Keith Dunlap
Special for MHSAA.com

April 13, 2023

Delonda Little was already a trailblazer to many before this year’s MHSAA Boys Basketball Finals.

Greater DetroitBut what happened last month at Breslin Center made her even more of one on a statewide level.

A referee and assigner for 20 years in the Detroit area, Little is a female boys and girls basketball official who mentors both male and female referees – no matter the gender or level, as she officiates high school and college games.

Officials often go to Little for guidance, direction and assignments, which has made her respected for years throughout Metro Detroit in the prep basketball community. Then, her status as a trailblazer grew even more.

Little was assigned as an official for the Division 3 Boys Basketball Final between Flint Beecher and Traverse City St. Francis, and she became the first female referee to officiate an MHSAA Boys Basketball Final since Traverse City’s Barb Beckett 1995.

“It was a very good feeling to know I was the one selected,” said Little, who officiated the Final with Matt Olson and Zach Porritt.  

In fact, while attending a Semifinal game the Friday before the Final, Little received a phone call from an area code she didn’t recognize.

She answered, and it was Beckett.

“At first I didn’t know the name,” Little said. “I said, ‘No, I don’t know you, but that’s fine.’”

Beckett then explained she was the first female referee to be assigned a Boys Basketball Final, and just wanted to offer support to Little.

At that point, Little became excited and thankful she answered the call.

“It was very nice to hear from her because she wanted to reach out and if not pass the torch, to congratulate me,” Little said.

Little, 51, said she found out she was going to be refereeing the Division 3 boys championship game just before the start of the postseason when she received an email from the MHSAA.

“I’m looking at the email and I’m like, boys?” Little said. “I was shocked.”

But she was shocked in a good way, and obviously excited for the honor.

Little monitors the action between Flint Beecher and Traverse City St. Francis.Little didn’t find out until a couple of days before the St. Francis/Beecher contest that she would be officiating that specific championship game, but the Monday of boys championship week was when she really started to receive congratulations from friends and colleagues.

That’s when an article came out in the Detroit News detailing her selection, which led to countless calls, texts and congratulatory messages on social media.

“I couldn’t even (keep up with the comments),” she said. “That’s how overwhelming the actual tags were. It came from all across the state with officials, men and women, because I do women’s college (games). Some of the college ladies were reaching out. I was getting all the hoopla before the game.”

Little said she normally doesn’t get nervous for games, but not having some nerves became a bit harder once so many people knew of her achievement.

However, she settled into a normal routine quickly once the game started.

“I wanted to get it done, get it over with and do well,” she said.

Little did do well, which is no surprise to everyone who knew her before she officiated on the boys championship stage.

It was just another feather in the cap for Little, who in 2016 became the first woman to officiate a boys Detroit Public School League championship game.

“Delonda is one of the top officials in the Detroit area, and our staff doesn’t look at Delonda as a female working a boys game – we see one of the top officials in Detroit working a basketball game,” MHSAA Executive Director Mark Uyl said. “There are females officiating in the NBA and female officials in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. The aspect that made Delonda’s selection for this MHSAA championship game nearly unique will soon be the norm at all levels of athletics.”     

Little graduated from Detroit Osborn in 1989 and starred on the basketball court at Wayne State, earning induction into WSU’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 2005.

Her day job is as an officer for the Michigan Department of Corrections, but her passion is officiating. She’s been an MHSAA-registered official for basketball for two decades and also was registered for volleyball for four years. This past fall she registered for football for the first time.

“I get something from it because it keeps me in shape, I love the people I work with and I like the kids,” Little said. “You are always teaching, and I like training the newer officials. I just enjoy it. I don’t know what I’d be doing if I wasn’t refereeing.”

Going forward, Little hopes her championship game assignment will now be an inspiration for other female referees.

“There aren’t very many women who would like to work boys basketball or feel comfortable,” Little said. “If that’s something they desire, I’m hoping more women are selected to work the games if they feel comfortable.”

Keith DunlapKeith Dunlap has served in Detroit-area sports media for more than two decades, including as a sportswriter at the Oakland Press from 2001-16 primarily covering high school sports but also college and professional teams. His bylines also have appeared in USA Today, the Washington Post, the Detroit Free Press, the Houston Chronicle and the Boston Globe. He served as the administrator for the Oakland Activities Association’s website from 2017-2020. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties

PHOTOS (Top) Delonda Little takes her position on the court during the Division 3 Boys Basketball Final on March 25 at Breslin Center. (Middle) Little monitors the action between Flint Beecher and Traverse City St. Francis.