Country Day Adds to Coach's 50th Run
March 17, 2017
By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
EAST LANSING – Frank Orlando’s 50th season as a high school coach has been much like many of them – he’s enjoyed another championship contender, led by multiple all-staters, and he’ll bring that team into the final day of the season once again.
But there could be something a little special as Detroit Country Day’s longtime girls basketball leader closes a half century on the bench.
Orlando couldn’t hold back every tear talking about it briefly Friday, after a few laughs when star Destiny Pitts hushed him for giving away the team’s defensive secrets, and as the Yellowjackets decompressed from eliminating reigning Class B champion Marshall 46-42 in their Semifinal matchup.
They’ll face either Freeland or Ypsilanti Arbor Prep in Saturday’s championship game at the Breslin Center, seeking a 12th MHSAA title over Orlando’s 36 seasons leading the program – another piece of hardware to add to a tradition this latest group has maintained.
“I don’t know if you remember last year, but I told you we’d be back here,” recalled Pitts, referencing her prediction after the Yellowjackets fell in a Semifinal in 2016. “Coach O’s 50th year is just so important to us, and getting the tradition instilled in our seniors so we can pass it down to the juniors and sophomores and freshmen. … It’s important to bring (the title) back to our friends, our school and our teachers, because they all believe in us.”
Friday’s Semifinal wasn’t decided until the final minute, something that might’ve seemed to favor Marshall after it won its Semifinal last season with two last-second free throws on the way to claiming the program’s first MHSAA title the next day.
But it was Country Day’s turn after the 2015 champ fell two wins short a year ago.
After Marshall led most of the second quarter, the Yellowjackets (25-1) led most of the third and fourth.
Redhawks senior Jill Konkle – one of four returning starters from last season’s team – scored with 1:48 to play to give Marshall a two-point edge. But the rest belonged to the Yellowjackets.
Junior guard Kaela Webb scored and then made two free throws to give her team a two-point lead with 44 seconds to play. Pitts added two more free throws for the final margin. In between, senior Tylar Bennett and junior Maxine Moore blocked Marshall shots, ending this season’s attempt at last-minute drama.
“They never quit, they kept their heads up and they kept playing hard, and that’s all I can say – they never gave up ever once,” Orlando said. “We worked hard on blocking. When they were coming, we told (our players) to wait, wait, wait, and then block. But don’t go after them right away because they are too good at what they do (with head fakes).”
The defensive stand characterized one of the key changes Webb described from last season’s team. In addition to more aggressiveness on that side of the court, these Yellowjackets also have shared the ball more, averaging more than 15 assists per game even as they had just 10 Friday.
It truly was strength on strength, as Country Day used only two subs for a total of eight minutes and Marshall used one sub for nine. Pitts led the Yellowjackets with 13 points and five assists and Bennett added 10 points as all five starters scored at least five.
Konkle and senior forward Nikki Tucker both scored 13 points to lead Marshall (23-3), and junior guard Natalie Tucker had nine points, 10 rebounds and six assists.
The Redhawks’ loss brought to an end a two-season 49-4 run that made a nice statement on the value of team basketball in a class where contenders often have one or more stars.
“I think the biggest thing is last year we proved to a lot of people that you don’t need DI (college) players,” said Tucker, who will play Division II hoops next season. “We aren’t a team that’s extra tall. We’re not a team that super quick. We’re not a team that’s crazy athletic. But we work together and we move the ball and we make shots when we need to make shots, and that’s all you need to do to play basketball. I don’t need a million DI commits when I have a great team.”
Marshall graduates five seniors who have been touted in their community since elementary school, and proved those high expectations correct last season. Redhawks coach Sal Konkle – also Jill’s mother – thought that was heaping a bit much on the youngsters at the time, but in the end this truly was a defining group.
“They have really instilled a work ethic in this program – we’ve always worked hard, but this is an extra special group that works extremely hard,” Sal Konkle said. “They just plain and simple do what you ask them to do, and they do it 100 miles an hour and with 100 percent effort all the time.
“What’s they’ve done is left a legacy for our team in the future here. The freshmen and the sophomores and the juniors on our team this year, they know how hard you have to work to get results, and they know how hard you have to work to reach your goals. We will still have lofty goals next year, and they’re going to have to work hard like these kids did.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Country Day’s Destiny Pitts works to get past Marshall’s Georgianna Pratley during Friday’s Class B Semifinal. (Middle) Redhawks senior Nikki Tucker drives to the basket.
Lansing Catholic Closes Season With Memorable Victory Close to Home
By Paul Costanzo
Special for MHSAA.com
March 18, 2023
EAST LANSING – The Lansing Catholic girls basketball team took a short drive to end a long wait.
Playing just three miles from their high school, the Cougars defeated Frankenmuth 43-29 Saturday at the Breslin Center to win the MHSAA Division 2 Final. It was the first Finals title for the program since 1995.
“It felt like homecourt advantage a little bit,” Lansing Catholic senior guard Hannah Pricco said. “Our bus trip wasn’t super long. It just kind of felt like we were coming to our own court.”
The Cougars treated it that way, dominating from the beginning of the matchup in their first Finals trip since that 1995 title. They scored the game’s first 11 points and never looked back.
“This is, as you can imagine, extremely surreal,” Lansing Catholic coach Kacee Reid said. “You’re going through literally every emotion on the bench, especially in a game like that. Frankenmuth is making such a great comeback, and we knew they were going to fight to the end. To go through the anger and sadness and happiness, and now it’s over and we’ve won it. It’s just been a rollercoaster of emotions, and I can’t describe the pride I have in these girls.”
It was the second meeting between the two teams, with Lansing Catholic taking the first 74-42 on Feb. 2. But Reid wasn’t going to let her team come in overconfident.
“They didn’t get here by accident,” Reid said. “They’re in the state championship because they’re playing their best ball of the year. We played them a month and a half ago. … We’re a totally different team, and we knew they were a totally different team. We knew they had been playing some really good basketball, and it didn’t matter at all what that first outcome was. We knew this was going to be a battle.”
Lansing Catholic (24-5) never trailed, and led by as many as 17 points in the third quarter. Leah Richards led the Cougars with 16 points and nine rebounds, while Anna Richards had 14 points. Gabby Halliwill added seven.
The Cougars were spurred by their defense throughout, holding Frankenmuth to 9 of 36 shooting from the field and forcing 13 turnovers.
“For us, defensively, we had to switch it up,” Reid said. “We had to keep switching up between man and zone. They were making adjustments and we couldn’t really sit in one thing for too long; they got comfortable. That’s a credit to their coaching staff always making adjustments. We had to continue to switch things up defensively and try to hopefully make their shooters second-guess their shot, or maybe not know where we were coming from.”
Frankenmuth (25-3) didn’t go away, despite trailing by double digits for the majority of the game.
That was helped by Lansing Catholic shooting 1 of 11 from the field in the third quarter, and going scoreless for the final 5:26 of the frame.
The Eagles cut the lead to seven with 2:45 to play on a steal and layup from Clare Conzelmann, but never got closer.
“There was always belief no matter what detriment we got ourselves in,” Frankenmuth senior Lexi Boyke said. “I wouldn’t want to choose any other girls to play with and be in with at that point. I think we fought back and really prided ourselves on, ‘We can still do it.’ We didn’t stop fighting until the end.”
Lansing Catholic always figured Frankenmuth would make a run to get into the game, but was ready when it came.
“We knew they were going to make runs, we knew we weren’t going to hold them to seven points the whole game,” Anna Richards said. “We knew in the third quarter they were going to score, so we just had to stay composed, work the ball around on offense to get the good shots that we wanted.”
Boyke, who scored Frankenmuth’s first 10 points and was its only scorer well into the third quarter, finished with 16. She also reached 1,000 career points in the game, and had six rebounds, while Izzy Bernthal had seven.
Frankenmuth was making its first Finals appearance since winning the Class C title in 1996, one year after Lansing Catholic.
“That’s a really good Lansing Catholic team, and you’ve seen that from their postseason run and beating an undefeated West Catholic team, and tonight finishing their season off with a state championship. So, congratulations to them,” Frankenmuth coach Joe Jacobs said. “I’m super proud of our kids. They didn’t quit tonight. They could have. … Fun experience, one that we want to treasure forever, but the motivation to come back again is here after tonight’s loss.”
PHOTOS (Top) Lansing Catholic celebrates its Division 2 championship Saturday night at Breslin Center. (Middle) The Cougars’ Anna Richards (10) attempts to get a shot up over Frankenmuth’s Lexi Boyke. (Below) Tessa Roe (12) works to get past Clare Conzelmann and to the basket.