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.
STAMBAUGH — Danica Shamion has enjoyed plenty of success in track & field throughout her high school athletic career.
The West Iron County senior is also quite successful in basketball.
Shamion joined the 1,000-point club here Jan. 23 while scoring 34 in a 63-60 loss to Norway.
“That really felt good,” she said after last week’s 93-41 win over Bessemer on Senior Night. “I’m glad I was able to do that at home. Although, it would have been even better had we won that game.”
The Wykons scored five in double digits against the Speedgirls, led by senior Siena Stine with 20 points. Junior center Sidney Storti added 17 points, and Shamion finished with 16 points and 17 assists.
“Sidney is a real asset to our team,” Shamion said. “I can see the floor pretty well, and the other girls are doing a pretty good job getting open. This was our last home game. It definitely meant something to us.”
Shamion, an All-Upper Peninsula Division 1-3 first-team selection a year ago, twisted her ankle in a season-opening 47-40 triumph over Iron Mountain and missed the next three games.
West Iron was 1-3 going into the holiday break before getting back on track with a 42-28 victory over Kingsford on Jan. 2. That enabled the Wykons to improve to 4-3 before dropping six of their next seven games.
West Iron, which was 5-9 after dropping a 73-55 decision at Negaunee, had won four in a row prior to Thursday’s 46-44 loss at Calumet. But the Wykons bounced back with a 51-49 win over Ishpeming Westwood on Tuesday to get back to .500 at 10-10.
“We were trying to forge our identity and weren’t hitting our shots (earlier in the season),” Shamion said. “Although, we’ve been playing better defense lately. We’re pretty good one-on-one and usually play man-to-man. We try to run the floor and score in transition.
“Negaunee is probably the best team we’ve seen this year, although Ishpeming and Houghton are also very good and Calumet and Westwood are tough,” she added.
In track & field, Shamion set U.P. Division 2 Finals record in the 200-meter dash (26.34 seconds) and 400 (57.18) last season. She also won the 100 (12.79) and placed second in high jump at 4 feet, 10 inches. She is a three-time Finals champion in all three sprint races.
Shamion also made the all-U.P. Volleyball Dream Team in the fall.
She will continue on the track at Central Michigan University after she graduates from West Iron this spring.
“I didn’t know much about their program, but I was interested in what they had to offer,” she said. “The girls on the team are nice, which is part of the reason why I chose Central. It’s a relief to have that decided.”
John Vrancic has covered high school sports in the Upper Peninsula since joining the Escanaba Daily Press staff in 1985. He is known most prominently across the peninsula for his extensive coverage of cross country and track & field that frequently appears in newspapers from the Wisconsin border to Lake Huron. He received the James Trethewey Award for Distinguished Service in 2015 from the Upper Peninsula Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association.
PHOTOS (Top) West Iron’s Danica Shamion (24) blocks a shot during her team’s game at Ishpeming on Jan. 15. (Middle) Shamion maintains possession of the ball. (Photos by Cara Kamps.)