Cousino Ends Historic Run Atop Class A

March 19, 2016

By Bill Khan
Special for Second Half

EAST LANSING — Kierra Fletcher hit the floor with her body, one of the hazards when driving to the basket, then slapped it with her hands when she realized her shot had fallen.

She got up and pumped her right fist in the air before going to the line and making the free throw.

These were just three of the 198 points she scored during Warren Cousino's eight-game run through the MHSAA Class A Girls Basketball Tournament, but they were arguably the most important.

A championship that seemed guaranteed when the Patriots held a 19-point third-quarter lead was slipping through the Patriots' grasp.

Detroit Martin Luther King had all of the momentum and a hot hand in senior guard Micaela Kelly, who virtually single-handedly willed the Crusaders back from the abyss.

A lead that had been chopped to five points was back to double figures at 57-47 when Fletcher made her 3-point play with 5:06 left in the Class A Final on Saturday at the Breslin Center. While King made one final push, coming back from double digits again was too much to ask of the Crusaders, who scored four points in the final seven seconds but ran out of time in a 67-65 loss to Cousino.

Fletcher, who had 27 points and averaged 28.4 over Cousino's last five games, picked up her fourth foul with 44.5 seconds left in the third quarter, then missed two free throws after her return. Her pent-up frustration was released when she made the huge momentum-stalling basket shortly after going 0 for 2 at the line.

"When I got my fourth foul, I was a little rattled," said Fletcher, a junior guard who is already being touted as a Miss Basketball favorite for next season. "Then I came back in the game and missed two free throws when it was crunch time. Once I got that and-one, it lifted my spirits up so we could go and win this game."

By holding off a furious rally by one of the state's most decorated programs, Cousino completed an unlikely championship run. The Patriots had been as far as the Regional Finals only once, losing 50-28 to Mount Clemens L'Anse Creuse North in 1979. They'd won only eight District titles before this season, going 1-8 in Regional games.

Their breakthrough moment came in the Regional championship game, where they beat two-time defending Class A champion Bloomfield Hills Marian, 43-39. Suddenly, Cousino girls basketball was on the radar.

"We figured, hey, if we can beat this team, we can beat any team," said forward Mackenzie Anderson, the team's only senior, after scoring 20 points Saturday. "Our defense was strong. We just didn't want to be done. We wanted one more day together."

Cousino (23-4) joined the 1999 Utica team as the only Class A champions from Macomb County in the 43-year history of the girls basketball tournament.

"Honestly, our team believed this was a realistic goal back in November," Fletcher said. "Our group message name was 'State champs, 2016.' I think at the time, even our parents didn't think we were going to be this far. We were the only ones who believed until we got to where we are today."

To earn their place in history, the Patriots had to knock off a King program that had more MHSAA Finals appearances (12) than Cousino had District titles (nine). King's last championship, its fifth, came in 2006.

It was Cousino that looked like the program accustomed to the big stage, as the Patriots scored the first five points of the game and built a 31-12 lead with 5:05 left in the second quarter. They outrebounded King 16-3 in the first quarter, grabbing 13 of the game's first 14 boards.

"We played our game in the second half," 33rd-year King coach William Winfield said. "In the first half, not so good. We had some shots that did not fall and drives to the basket that did not go; that was about the size of it. They played an excellent game and were able to get the ball down the floor."

Cousino led 35-19 at halftime, with Fletcher scoring a relatively modest (by her standards) 12 points. Freshman Kate McArthur had nine points on three 3-pointers, while Anderson had eight to help the Patriots dominate the first half. In each of Cousino's previous four games, Fletcher scored more than half of the team's points, including 37 in a 60-45 Semifinal victory over Hudsonville on Friday.

"What's great about this victory is for the first half (Fletcher) played a big role, but there were other people who stepped up today, as well," Cousino coach Mike Lee said. "In a championship game, we said we needed people to step up, and they did. The sacrifice, the heart, the will and the belief — this team believed more than any other team. Once we got to a certain point in the Regionals, we felt good about at least giving this a good shot."

When Cousino began the second half by extending its lead back to 19 points three times, it looked like the fourth quarter would simply become a coronation ceremony for the Patriots.

Kelly had other ideas.

The DePaul-bound guard scored 11 points during the third quarter, as King (24-2) cut the lead to 50-40 heading into the fourth. Despite playing with four fouls, she kept it up in the fourth quarter, scoring 12 more points to finish with a game-high 34. Kelly's total tied the sixth-highest for an MHSAA championship game.

"Since I was supposed to be the leader, I just decided this is my time to put my team on my back before I leave," Kelly said. "I wanted to leave knowing I left it all on the floor."

Kelly, who was 11 for 11 from the line, hit two free throws with 5:53 left to put King back in the game at 52-47.

Fletcher held off the charge by making two free throws with 5:15 left, then making the three-point play with 5:06 to go. King got back to within five points with 1:11 left, but Aubrey Fetzer got a layup off a pass from Anderson on the press break with 1:02 to go.

A basket by King's Tia Tedford, who had 14 points, made it 66-61 with 46 seconds left. Anderson went 1 for 2 from the line with 22.6 seconds to go. King got two free throws from Erica Whitley-Jackson with 7 seconds on the clock to get within four. A shot at the buzzer made it a two-point final.

King was able to reverse the early rebounding discrepancy, trailing only 41-32 in that department by the end, but couldn't overcome its 5 for 31 shooting from 3-point range. Cousino attempted only nine shots from beyond the arc, with McArthur going 4 for 8 to finish with 13 points.

"Today we rushed our threes," Kelly said. "We didn't take our time." 

Click for the full box score.

The Girls Basketball Finals are presented by Sparrow Health System.  

PHOTOS: (Top) The Warren Cousino bench erupts as the final seconds tick off the clock during the Class A Final on Saturday. (Middle) Mackenzie Cook works to get through the Martin Luther King defense on a drive to the hoop.

Little Provides Major Stride as 1st Woman to Officiate Boys Hoops Final since 1995

By Keith Dunlap
Special for

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.