Blissfield Edges Bishop Foley to Earn Long-Awaited Title Game Return
By Keith Dunlap
Special for MHSAA.com
March 16, 2023
EAST LANSING – The Blissfield girls basketball program from this point on hopes it’s a lot sooner than 2073 before it returns to a state championship game.
But for the time being, the Royals will enjoy returning after a 50-year absence.
For the first time since finishing as Class C runner-up in 1973, Blissfield will play for a Finals championship after defeating Madison Heights Bishop Foley, 45-41, in a Division 3 Semifinal on Thursday.
“It was a typical game for us,” Blissfield head coach Ryan Gilbert said. “A gritty win. We gutted it out. I thought we made plays when we had to and played our best when we needed to play our best.”
The difference in the game was Blissfield’s frontcourt, where seniors Sarah Bettis and Julia White proved too much for Bishop Foley to overcome.
White finished with 11 points and seven rebounds, while Bettis had eight rebounds to help Blissfield earn a 34-21 advantage on the boards.
The Royals (27-1) had 14 offensive rebounds to just three for Bishop Foley.
“That was our thought going in,” Gilbert said. “We wanted to get it inside early and try to get them in foul trouble. We finished some, we missed some. But we got a lot of rebounds. We did a great job on the glass.”
Junior Avery Collins scored 10 points, and freshman Leigh Wyman had nine to flank White for Blissfield.
Collins said many community members have been telling her for years that this season was the time for the team to get to East Lansing, given the nucleus of the team and what grades they were going to be in.
Now, that vision has been fulfilled. Blissfield will face Hemlock in Saturday's Division 3 Final at 4 p.m.
“I believed in us as soon as it started,” Collins said. “I believed in us.”
Junior Ryan Moorer scored 11 points, senior Abby Pasinos had 10 and senior Alyssa Samartino added nine points for Bishop Foley (21-7), which advanced to the Semifinals for a second-straight year.
“To make it two years in a row is tough,” Bishop Foley head coach Colleen Szakacs said. “These girls battle day in and day out, especially in this game. We battled back no matter what and made it a down-to-the-wire, exciting game. Unfortunately, there were a couple of plays we could have done better here and there. But hats off to Blissfield and how well they performed.”
Blissfield entered giving up 26.8 points per game, while Bishop Foley had given up 33 points a contest while playing a scheduled filled with Division 1 and Division 2 schools.
But before the fourth quarter was two minutes old, each team had given up more points than their average.
Blissfield held a 44-38 lead with 27.9 seconds remaining, but Bishop Foley cut the deficit to 44-41 with 17.2 seconds left on a 3-pointer by Pasinos.
The Ventures then got the ball back on a turnover, but after a timeout, missed a 3-pointer with under 10 seconds remaining that was rebounded by Wyman.
Following a foul with 8.1 seconds left, Wyman hit a free throw to give Blissfield a 45-41 lead.
A last-second 3-point attempt by Bishop Foley missed, essentially ending the game.
Trailing 30-25 going into the fourth quarter, Bishop Foley cut the Blissfield lead to two points on three occasions during the first four minutes of the period.
However, Bishop Foley couldn’t get over the hump and tie the game, and Blissfield took a 41-35 lead with 1:47 remaining after a putback by sophomore Peyton Tennant.
Bishop Foley cut its deficit to 41-38 with 1:32 remaining after a 3-point play by Samartino.
Blissfield had an answer, taking a 43-38 lead with 51.3 seconds remaining on a layup by Wyman and then going up 44-38 with 27.9 seconds to go on a free throw by Collins.
PHOTOS (Top) Blissfield's Abrie Louden (3) gets a hand up on a Madison Heights Bishop Foley shot during Thursday's first Semifinal at Breslin Center. (Middle) The Royals' Avery Collins (4) looks for an open teammate.
Performance of the Week: Hemlock's Regan Finkbeiner
March 24, 2023
Regan Finkbeiner ♦ Hemlock
Senior ♦ Basketball
The 5-foot-6 guard capped her high school career at Breslin Center over the weekend with team highs of 24 points and four steals in Thursday’s 57-26 Division 3 Semifinal win over Hart and the team-leading 19 points and four assists in the 59-43 win over Blissfield on Saturday that clinched the Huskies their first MHSAA Finals championship in girls basketball.
Finkbeiner played all but four minutes of 64 total over the two games, and she made a combined 15 of her 27 shots from the floor and 9 of 10 free throw attempts, plus four 3-pointers in the Final. She had entered the season’s final week averaging 17.1 points, 3.5 assists and 4.8 steals per game and in February became the program’s all-time leading scorer breaking the previous record of 1,302. A standout in multiple sports, she’s committed to continue playing softball after high school at Madonna University. Her basketball team finished 26-3 this winter.
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PHOTO Hemlock's Regan Finkbeiner drives to the basket during her team's Semifinal win over Hart. (Photos courtesy of the Hemlock girls basketball program.)