EAST LANSING – Alexis Huntey had never cried after winning a game. And it’s not like she and her teammates were new to the feeling.
Morley-Stanwood girls teams have achieved their share of significant milestones the last few years. And seniors Huntey, Bailey Cairnduff and Elyse Starck have been big parts of many of them.
But earning the Mohawks’ first-ever MHSAA basketball championship Saturday at the Breslin Center was like nothing those stars had experienced in sports before.
Huntey and Cairnduff also led the school’s volleyball team to the Class C title in the fall. And that was an emotional win. But there was just something different this time, evidenced by what fell with the final buzzer of the Mohawks’ 61-57 win over Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett and Miss Basketball Madison Ristovski.
“Basketball is just such an emotional sport out there. Every basket and every play is so key,” Huntey said. “I can’t even describe it. ... I cried today."
Cairndorff added, “We all cried like babies out there.”
No doubt, a decade of just-misses dissolved with those tears.
Morley-Stanwood had won 11 straight league titles and seven straight Districts heading into this March. But the Mohawks had never reached the Semifinals – and needed a two-point win over frequent power Kent City in the Regional Final to keep this run alive.
Morley-Stanwood coach Bob Raven told his players he’d kiss the Spartan head at center court if the team got to Breslin. They did, and then went a step further by beating reigning champion St. Ignace in Thursday’s Semifinal. When the Mohawks finished their 28-0 run Saturday afternoon, Raven kept that promise.
“I’ve been coming to these state Finals for a lot of years as a spectator. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better Class C game than that one,” Morley-Stanwood coach Bob Raven said. “I’ve know there have been some good ones over the years. (Flint) Hamady and St. Ignace a few years ago. But this one ranks right up there with them.”
Much of the credit fell to Miss Basketball.
University Liggett’s Ristovski, who has signed with the University of Michigan, scored 42 points – second most in MHSAA girls basketball championship game history to Peggy Evans’ 47 for Detroit Country Day in 1989. Ristovski did so on an impressive 15 of 29 shooting from the floor despite drawing attention from multiple defenders, just as she has all season.
The only defender who didn’t help on Ristovski was Starck, who instead focused fully on younger sister Haleigh Ristovski. Haleigh hit six 3-pointers in the Knights’ Semifinal win over Concord, and Raven knew that couldn’t happen again if his team was to come out on top. The plan worked – Haleigh Ristovski had only three points in the Final. But University Liggett also struggled to find additional help for their star, which might’ve cost the Knights in the end.
“We talked about it at halftime, and timeouts. We were stagnant, did a lot of standing around and stuff,” Knights coach Joe LaMagno said. “We showed signs of people moving, then went right back into it again. It was a trap we fell into ourselves.”
Madison Ristovski scored all 11 of her University Liggett's points in the fourth quarter as the teams remained within three points of each other throughout. Morley-Stanwood held a 59-57 lead after Starck split a pair of free throws with 37 seconds to play, giving Liggett another chance to tie or take a late advantage.
Ristovski moved around the 3-point arc looking for a shot, and settled for one from near the elbow at the top of the key. It missed – only the second miss on seven shots in the quarter. Two more free throw makes put the game out of reach.
“These girls don’t get rattled like their coach does,” Raven said. “They’re pretty low-key. We don’t have that rah-rah, fired-up girl on the team, and I think that helps us. They are so even-keeled when things are going great and then when they aren’t going great. I think that helps us battle through those situations.”
Huntey, Cairndorff and Starck combined for 55 points – Huntey had 27 and 16 rebounds, Cairnduff scored 18 with nine rebounds, and Starck added 10 points and five assists.
University Liggett also finished runner-up in 2011. For the second straight season, Madison and Haleigh Ristovski had to leave the Breslin floor with tears in their eyes as well – although not without plenty to be proud off in the days ahead.
“It's worse the second time,” Haleigh Ristovski said. “I'm still proud of her though. Madison played awesome.
PHOTOS: (Top) Morley-Stanwood celebrates its first MHSAA championship. (Photo courtesy of Terry McNamara Photography.)
Championship time is quickly approaching this girls basketball season.
We’re still three weeks out from the start of District play. But league contenders are clashing all over the state, with a handful of conferences finishing up their schedules this week and several favorites facing off soon with titles on the line. We make mention of a number of those below.
Week in Review
The countdown of last week’s five most intriguing results:
1. West Bloomfield 59, Detroit Edison 49 Last season, West Bloomfield (15-2) became the first in-state team to defeat Edison (12-3) since 2018 – and the Lakers have become the only one to do so again this winter.
2. Maple City Glen Lake 51, Traverse City St. Francis 45 The Lakers (13-2) are up to No. 2 in Division 4 MPR, while St. Francis (12-2) sits No. 4 in Division 3.
3. Holt 55, DeWitt 53 The Rams (14-2) sit alone atop the Capital Area Activities Conference Blue after sending the Panthers (13-2) into second in a matchup of top Division 1 teams statewide.
4. Hancock 50, Calumet 47 The Bulldogs (13-1) maintained their one-game lead in the Western Peninsula Athletic Conference West with their second win this season over third-place Calumet (11-3). Both are among the top seven statewide in Division 3 MPR.
5. Detroit Edison 44, Farmington Hills Mercy 42 The Pioneers bounced back from the West Bloomfield loss with a pair of close wins, this one over Mercy (14-2) followed by a one-pointer over Grand Rapids Catholic Central on Saturday.
With an eye toward March, here are two teams in each division making sparks:
Muskegon Reeths-Puffer (11-5) After a 2-4 start with those losses to top Division 1 and 2 teams statewide, Reeths-Puffer is 9-3 and tied for first in the Ottawa-Kent Conference Green with Muskegon after edging the Big Reds 56-52 on Friday. That avenged a 14-point loss to Muskegon on Jan. 6, and the Rockets have since gone on an eight-game winning streak. They also opened last week with a 42-39 victory over 11-win Ludington.
Wayne Memorial (13-4) The Zebras further solidified their standing atop the Kensington Lakes Activities Association East standings with last week’s 75-57 win over second-place Belleville. That followed up a 44-41 win over the Tigers on Jan. 6, and total Wayne has won 12 straight since a 1-3 start that included two-point losses to Division 1 contenders Detroit Renaissance and Hudsonville and a third defeat to Illinois power Chicago Whitney Young.
Goodrich (14-1) The Martians are locked in another battle atop the Flint Metro League Stars with Lake Fenton and trail the Blue Devils by a game after a 50-44 loss Jan. 20. That’s Goodrich’s only defeat, and they’ll attempt to avenge it in the league finale Feb. 17. In the meantime, the Martians can continue their statewide push upward with 13-win Flushing coming up Wednesday and 15-win Ovid-Elsie next week as well.
Redford Westfield Prep (11-6) The Warriors take on many of the state’s best, evidenced by their No. 8 MPR despite six losses. Westfield has won seven of its last eight games, the lone defeat during that streak 55-53 to still-undefeated Flint Carman-Ainsworth on Jan. 16 – and with perhaps its most notable instate win of the season 46-45 in double overtime Jan. 12 over reigning Division 3 champion Ypsilanti Arbor Prep.
McBain (13-4) The Highland Conference race could go down to the finish, especially after McBain avenged its earlier 17-point loss to second-place Evart with a 51-35 win last week. McBain also has a six-point loss to league leader Lake City from Jan. 20, but can avenge that in the regular-season finale Feb. 23. The Ramblers additionally have a pair of victories over 12-win Beal City and a solid early loss to still-undefeated Division 2 Escanaba.
Ovid-Elsie (15-2) The Marauders haven’t slowed down a bit after last season’s 21-2 finish with league and District titles, the latter in Division 2. This season in Division 3, Ovid-Elsie is up to No. 6 in MPR with a 14-game winning streak since suffering its lone losses early to Pewamo-Westphalia (10-5) and Dansville (15-1). The Marauders handed Mackinaw City its first defeat Saturday, 59-55 on a neutral court, and also has a victory over 14-win Ithaca plus a two-game lead in the Mid-Michigan Activities Conference.
Fowler (11-6) Coming off back-to-back Division 4 championships, Fowler put together a schedule featuring solid-to-strong teams from Divisions 1-4 and sit No. 3 in Division 4 MPR. The losses have come to Midland Dow, Haslett, Lansing Catholic, Kent City and league rivals Dansville and Portland St. Patrick, and the Eagles avenged the Shamrocks defeat 51-44 last week. Fowler will need help to catch Dansville in the Central Michigan Athletic Conference, down two games from the league leader, but will try to get one back from the Aggies on Feb. 14.
Norway (16-1) The Knights are leading the large-school division of the Skyline Central Conference with the likely deciding matchup coming at Bark River-Harris next week. Norway has lost only to Niagara (Wis.), by five two weeks ago, and handed Carney-Nadeau (13-2) one of its losses among other strong work – and after ending last season’s 11-10 run with a 15-point District loss to the Wolves.
Be on the lookout for results of these games coming up:
Tuesday – Coldwater (15-1) at Jackson Northwest (15-1) – The Mounties lead Coldwater by a win in the Interstate 8 Athletic Conference thanks to a 50-46 win in their first meeting Jan. 10.
Tuesday – Utica Ford (14-1) at Grosse Pointe North (13-2) – North has clinched a share of the Macomb Area Conference Red title heading into tonight’s league finale, while Ford won by a large margin in the MAC White.
Thursday – Houghton (13-1) at Hancock (13-1) – As noted above, Hancock leads the West-PAC West by a game – but will face second-place Houghton twice over the next two weeks.
Friday – Standish-Sterling (15-1) at Hemlock (13-3) – Hemlock owns the lead in the Tri-Valley Conference West 10-1 thanks to a 62-31 doubling up in the first meeting Jan. 6. But that remains the Panthers’ lone loss, and they’ve since handed TVC 10-2 co-leader Saginaw Valley Lutheran one of its two defeats.
Friday – Saline (15-2) at Temperance Bedford (16-1) – Saline is first and Bedford second in the Southeastern Conference Red thanks to Saline’s 41-22 win in their first meeting Jan. 27.
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PHOTOS (Top) A trio of Fowler defenders surround a Bath player driving to the basket during a 49-27 win earlier this season; they meet again Thursday. (Middle) Maddie Bradford of Maple City Glen Lake contests a shot by Maggie Napont of Traverse City St. Francis during the Lakers' 51-45 win over the Gladiators last week. (Top photo by Click by Christine McCallister. Middle photo by Rick Sack/TC Rick Photo.)