Grand Blanc Starts Fast, Finishes Strong in Advancing to 1st Title Game

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for

March 22, 2024

EAST LANSING – The formula for Grand Blanc’s success in Friday’s Division 1 Semifinal was simple.

Start the game fast, and finish the same way.

The Bobcats built an early double-digit lead, but had to stave off Belleville’s second-half comeback attempt to pull out a 54-45 win at Michigan State University’s Breslin Center.

Grand Blanc (23-4) scored 14 of the game’s final 17 points to advance to the program’s first Final.

“We thought it was going to be easier than it was after the way we started because we got off to a great start, but then momentum went the other way,” Bobcats coach Bob Taylor said. “We got off to a nice comfortable lead, and then they charged back in the third quarter.

“It was give and take after that, and we were fortunate enough to make some plays in the end.”

Grand Blanc sprinted out to an early 10-0 and increased it to 19-6 by the end of the first quarter.

Malaya Brown (24) looks to get to the lane with Belleville’s Sydney Savoury (31) defending.Senior Kate DeWitt, who played all 32 minutes, made a pair of 3-pointers to ignite the fast start.

“We started out well, but after they came back we just needed to stay calm, cool and collected,” DeWitt said. “We didn’t want the season to stop, and it’s just basketball. It’s a simple game.

“We just had to play our game (at the end), and there’s no words to describe how this feels right now. All I can do is smile.”

Despite the rocky start, Belleville, which didn’t arrive until 11:30 a.m. due to the snowy weather conditions, didn’t waver. The Tigers slowly chipped away at the early deficit.

A 3-pointer by SeCrette Carter and a lay-up from Jordan Petersen during the final minute of the second quarter cut the Grand Blanc advantage to 25-15 at the half.

Belleville freshman sensation Sydney Savoury then led a furious third-quarter surge.

The 6-foot forward scored 11 of her game-high 24 points in the third and drained a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give the Tigers their first lead of the game, 37-35.

Belleville outscored the Bobcats 22-10 during the period.

“We started off in the first quarter real slow, but we kept our tempo and we knew we would make a run and we did that at the end of the third quarter and into the fourth,” Tigers coach Jason Wilkins said. “Our shots weren’t falling at first, but then they started falling and our defensive intensity picked up.

“But credit to Grand Blanc. They didn’t give up, they fought hard and made the clutch plays when they were needed.”

The Tigers led 42-40 with six minutes left, but managed only three points the rest of the game as Grand Blanc’s defense tightened.

“The mindset was to keep their key players from shooting,” said Grand Blanc senior Chelsea Bishop, who had 13 points and four steals.

“They started to get hot in the second half, so it was just keeping them from shooting and driving.

Grand Blanc junior Rayven McQueen, who finished 6 of 9 from the field for 12 points, scored back-to-back buckets to cap a 10-0 run and put the Bobcats ahead 50-42 with 2:28 remaining in the game.

Friday’s was the first trip to the Semifinals for Belleville (24-3) after the team won its first Regional title since 2001.

“Grand Blanc was the better team today, but I’m proud of my team and getting here was a great accomplishment.”

Starting guard Parc Liggins led Grand Blanc with 14 points and was 5 of 6 from the free throw line.

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS (Top) Grand Blanc’s Rayven McQueen (21) makes a move toward the basket during Friday’s first Division 1 Semifinal at Breslin Center. (Middle) Malaya Brown (24) looks to get to the lane with Belleville’s Sydney Savoury (31) defending. (Photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)

JoBurg 3-Sport Great Capping Career Filled with All-State Honors, Team Trophies

By Tom Spencer
Special for

April 5, 2024

It won’t be hard for Jayden Marlatt to remember opening day on the softball field from any of her four years at Johannesburg-Lewiston.

Northern Lower PeninsulaAs a freshman, she missed the opener due to needing to quarantine. Her sophomore and junior years started on the road because the Cardinals’ field was under construction.  

This season the Cardinals will open up — weather permitting — on their brand-new field, hosting Mio on Monday, April 8.  Marlatt is slated to be the starting pitcher again and add to her school record collection.

While Johannesburg-Lewiston is looking forward to playing on the new diamond, Marlatt and her teammates have high hopes of finishing the season almost 200 miles south. They’re looking to get back to Michigan State University – the site of the Division 4 Semifinals and Final.

The Cards have had their sites on that goal since they fell 4-2 to Mendon in last year’s Semifinal at Secchia Stadium. The loss ended a 30-4-1 campaign that saw the Cardinals play every game on the road for a second consecutive year, but come up only one victory short of a first championship game appearance.

The trip to East Lansing also came after the Cards won the program’s first District title since 2008 and advanced to the Semifinals for the first time since 1981.

“It has been a long two seasons on the road,” said eighth-year head coach Kim Marlatt, noting the team utilized a Little League field for practices during the stretch. “They’ve been putting in a lot of work in the offseason, so it is excited to get going.”

Cardinals’ 1,000-point scorer Marlatt sets up for a free throw attempt. The new field isn’t the only new things this spring. The Cardinals will have a junior varsity team for the first time during the Marlatt’s tenure. The JV squad is coached by Ryan Marlatt, who has been serving the program the past eight years as assistant coach. He also has been the head girls basketball coach at JoBurg the past two seasons.

The Marlatt coaches are the proud parents of Jayden, who continues to garner recognition as perhaps the greatest athlete in Johannesburg-Lewiston’s history. 

The three-sport star had a huge hand in all that JoBurg accomplished last season leading the team in batting average (.670), home runs (13) and runs batted in (61). As the team’s ace pitcher, she collected 249 strikeouts and compiled a 1.32 ERA.

“Jayden has put in the hard work,” Kim pointed out.  “She is a very humble athlete. ‘She doesn’t like to talk about herself. She likes to compete, and she likes to be on the top of her game for her teammates.”

Jayden has been named all-conference and all-state in softball, basketball and volleyball nearly every season over her four years at JoBurg. She’s led her teams to Ski Valley Conference, District and Regional titles along the way.

She’s also been named Player of the Year by multiple publications. And she’s a front runner to be voted the Most Valuable Player of the Ski Valley Conference in softball. Earlier this year, league coaches voted her the MVP for both basketball and volleyball.  

“The Ski Valley never used to vote on an MVP,” Ryan Marlatt said. “Hopefully she can add the triple crown and get softball this year.”

Jayden Marlatt, who has played all three sports all four years, acknowledged softball is perhaps her most treasured, and she’ll continue in that sport at Ferris State. Her career total of more than 500 strikeouts, and her 14 home runs last season, are both JoBurg school records. "I like them all but probably softball,” she confirmed when asked to name her favorite sport.

She averaged 12 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3.3 assists and four steals per game this winter helping the Cards basketball team to a conference runner-up finish. She was key to JoBurg's ability to put a 12-game winning streak together, and she topped the 1,000-point career mark along the way.

Also a standout in the fall, Marlatt prepares to connect during volleyball season.Her outstanding senior year on the basketball court and this spring’s possibilities nearly vanished as the volleyball season ended.

She suffered what looked to be a serious lower-leg injury in the final game of the JoBurg volleyball season. “She finished in the emergency room,” Kim Marlatt said.  

Diagnosed a high ankle sprain, it was an aggravation to an injury from her junior year in basketball. She wasn’t quite at 100 percent on the basketball court this season until the holiday break. She’s starting the softball season healthy, though.

Before the injury, Jayden led the Cards to their third volleyball conference championship over the last four years. After becoming JoBurg's all-time kills leader during her junior season, and with many of her teammates from her first three seasons graduating, Jayden had to fill a variety of roles while anchoring the offense from her outside hitter spot.

She ended up leading the team in both kills with 421 and digs, with 431, in her final season on the volleyball court. And she is listed among MHSAA’s all-time leaders in kills for a single match and career.

It’s more than Marlatt’s stats that stand out for Kristine Peppin, the school’s volleyball coach the past 15 years.

“It is not about the size of the school or the size of the player, it’s the heart that they have inside,” she proclaimed. “This girl would be a successful player on whatever team she was on. 

“Yes we’re a small school, small town,” she continued. “That kind of leadership and heart and drive to be the best is what’s given her that success.”

Marlatt’s work ethic is second to none, Peppin noted. She never saw Jayden give less than a “1,000” percent in practice or games in her career. 

Marlatt celebrates a trophy win during last season’s Semifinals softball run with parents (and coaches) Kim and Ryan Marlatt.“She’s a super hard worker and extremely modest for the kind of skill she possesses and the success she’s had,” Peppin said. “Her teammates think it’s amazing to be on her team.”

Marlatt’s volleyball skills caught the eye of at least one of her conference opponents’ coaches back in junior high. Ron Stremlow was performing one of his many coaching duties for Fife Lake Forest Area when he first saw Jayden on the volleyball court.

“I could tell then this girl was somebody special,” said Stremlow, who became one of the winningest coaches in state volleyball history with the Warriors. “When she got in high school, it just took off.

“She puts the time into it, and she works hard,” Stremlow continued. “Kids like that get what they deserve – they work for it.”

Stremlow, now retired, also acknowledged he’s enjoyed being able to watch the hard-throwing Marlatt on the softball field the last couple of seasons as Forest Area hosted the Cardinals consecutively due to JoBurg’s lack of a home field.

It’s something he’ll have to travel to do this year though, as JoBurg is scheduled to host the Warriors on April 15.

The Cardinals also will host a Regional on their new field June 8. The winners of District play at Rogers City, Harbor Springs, St. Ignace and Gaylord St. Mary will participate.

To play in the Regional, the Cards will have to emerge from the Rogers City District featuring the host Hurons, Atlanta, Hillman, Onaway, and Posen.

Tom SpencerTom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Johannesburg-Lewiston’s Jayden Marlatt drives a pitch during softball season. (2) Cardinals’ 1,000-point scorer Marlatt sets up for a free throw attempt. (3) Also a standout in the fall, Marlatt prepares to connect during volleyball season. (4) Marlatt celebrates a trophy win during last season’s Semifinals softball run with parents (and coaches) Kim and Ryan Marlatt. (Action shots by Dylan Jespersen/Petoskey News-Review; family photo by Breya Domke.)