2nd-Half Surge lifts Sacred Heart in Class D

March 17, 2016

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor 

EAST LANSING – Averi Gamble had a smile on her face for all but a few seconds of the final minute of Thursday night’s MHSAA Semifinal.

Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart’s Class D championship win two years ago was “the best moment of my life, thus far,” she said after. 

And she and her teammates earned the opportunity to go through it all again.

Sacred Heart chipped away over three quarters to finish a 45-38 win over Stephenson and set up championship game matchup against top-ranked Pittsford.

“Just the fact that I can come back here twice is overwhelming,” Gamble added. “I know how it feels already. It’s just so exciting that I can do it twice.”

The No. 3 Irish (24-1) will face Pittsford at 10 a.m. Saturday. Stephenson, ranked No. 8 entering the postseason, was playing in its first Semifinal and finished 24-3.

But for more than a half, it looked instead like the Eagles’ dream season might go on.

Stephenson took a five-point lead into the final seconds of the first quarter, and led as late as two minutes into the third.

But that’s when Sacred Heart’s experience began to pay off.

The Irish actually are relatively young, with a freshman and two sophomores in the starting lineup. But Gamble was The Associated Press’ Class D Player of the Year this winter and senior guard Megan English also started in the 2014 Final.

Gamble finished with 13 points, 13 rebounds and four blocked shots, but had 11 points, five rebounds and two of those blocks over the final 14 minutes and nine of her team’s 12 points during the fourth quarter.

Stephenson, which had shot 33 percent from the floor during the first half, sagged to 23 percent during the second half against the Oilers’ zone, which was anchored by Gamble dissuading would-be drivers from taking a run at the basket.

English added two points, two steals and an assist over the final 14 minutes.

“We just settled in,” Sacred Heart coach Damon Brown said. “We just had to get through that first quarter, get our nerves out of the way, just think of it as a regular basketball game. Once we did that, settled in, our defense looked a lot better and our offense looked a lot better.”

The Irish did switch things up defensively a bit during the second half in an effort to apply more pressure and up the pace of the game. Stephenson coach Shanna Beal admitted that uptick in tempo might have drained her team’s energy a bit too quickly – although the inability to get many open looks and stop Gamble down the stretch certainly made differences as well.

“Obviously she’s the focus and what they base their offense around, and we just decided to play in front and behind her,” Beal said. “The problem that arose was getting body position, and rebounding was a big key in the second half. We just couldn’t move her out of there to get second shots.”

Sophomore forward Sophie Ruggles added 10 points and eight rebounds for the Irish, and freshman guard Scout Nelson also scored 10 points.

Senior Karley Johnson was the lead scorer for Stephenson with 12 points, and senior center Tori Wangerin had six and 13 rebounds while locking up Gamble for more than a half defensively.

“I have no words; I’m super proud of the girls this year,” Beal said. “These three girls (Wangerin, Johnson and Kelsey Johnson) have grown up in the gym. This was a dream of theirs, and I’m glad we were able to make it here. I believe we fought hard all the way to the end. We have a lot of pride being the first women’s team from our school to make it here. Most of our community was here; we’re pretty small, but that they were all here was great support.”

Click for the full box score.

The Girls Basketball Finals are presented by Sparrow Health System.

PHOTOS: (Top) Sacred Heart players celebrate clinching their second MHSAA championship game appearance in three seasons. (Middle) Scout Nelson works to get past Stephenson’s Haley Truitt.

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.