Lyons Delivers Forever Shot to Clinch Unforgettable Rockford Finish

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

March 18, 2023

EAST LANSING – Brad Wilson had preached to his Rockford girls basketball team the importance of focusing on the next play. Not worrying about what had just happened, but moving forward and making the next play to help your team.

Apparently, he did a good job of drilling it home.

After hitting the biggest shot in program history and giving the Rams a final-minute lead in the MHSAA Division 1 Final against West Bloomfield, junior guard Grace Lyons’ mind immediately went to heeding her coaches instructions.

“It was amazing, but I knew we had to get back on defense and finish it out,” Lyons said. 

Lyons and her Rockford teammates did finish it out, making her go-ahead 3-pointer with 40 seconds remaining the deciding bucket in a 40-36 win over West Bloomfield at the Breslin Center to capture the first Finals title in program history.

“Greatness is about the journey – it’s about the effort that gets put in each and every day,” Wilson said. “In my opinion, these girls were great before we even played this game. They were great before there was a single play in this game. But we had an opportunity to be the greatest in our school history today. Our mantra was, ‘Next play.’ (West Bloomfield) had a couple of runs where some teams would have folded, but our girls didn’t flinch. They steadied the storm, and when girls had opportunities to make plays, they did.”

The Rams’ Anna Wypych (2) drives to the basket with West Bloomfield’s Sydney Hendrix (5) defending.The win avenged a Semifinal loss from a year ago, when the Lakers ended Rockford’s first trip to the Final Four.

“It’s an indescribable feeling,” Rockford senior guard Alyssa Wypych said. “I went light-headed. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is happening.’ It’s something I’ve worked my whole life for. It’s been a dream forever. To finally get it done is just amazing.”

Getting it done took surviving a tight, physical game with the reigning Division 1 champion. Both offenses struggled to get anything going against the other’s stellar defense, and the teams headed into the fourth quarter with West Bloomfield leading 23-22.

Neither team led by more than three points during the fourth quarter until Lyons hit a pair of free throws to ice the game with one-tenth of a second left on the clock.

“They are a really tough team,” Wypych said. “Especially since we had experience playing a majority of their players last year, we knew we were going to have another good game.”

West Bloomfield led 36-35 with under 2 minutes to play, but Lyons came up with a steal with 1:12 remaining to start her game-ending heroics.

Not long after, she found herself open near the top of the 3-point line and didn’t hesitate to let a shot fly, giving Rockford a 38-36 lead with 40 seconds to play. It was her first basket of the day.

“I wasn’t going to stop shooting just because I missed a few,” Lyons said. “I knew I was a good shooter, and at least one of them had to go in. When Anna drove in and just kicked me the ball, there wasn’t anyone around me so I just let it fly and it went in.”

Wilson said it’s a shot that will probably be talked about forever in Rockford.

“It’s a sports town,” he said. “High education, high standards. Our community loves our teams. Anywhere you go, you can’t get away from it. I’d expect the rest of my lifetime – I’m a Rockford Ram forever, raising my family here and I’m a teacher at the school – so I’m assuming we’re going to have conversations about this for the rest of my life. There’s nothing more I’d rather talk about. So, pretty awesome.”

Kayla MacLaren (14) is presented the championship trophy while her teammates celebrate.West Bloomfield (26-3) had two chances to tie the game, but turned the ball over on its first, and missed a pair of free throws with 2.8 seconds remaining on its second. 

The Rams (28-1) still had to avoid a turnover against West Bloomfield’s incredibly effective press, but they managed, with Lyons inbounding the ball and getting a return pass before being fouled.

While Lyons was the hero down the stretch, Rockford was in the game thanks in large part to the efforts of sophomore Anna Wypych. She finished the game with 20 points and eight rebounds.

“She puts in more time than most people on the planet,” Wilson said. “She’s a gym rat. We do so much as a program, and (when) we’re not doing stuff, she’s doing stuff on her own. When she came here, there were some things she had to learn. Over the course of these last two years, just her evolution in her game, whether it be offense, whether it be defense, whether it’s attacking the basket, knocking down 3s and really just being a big player in big moments, it’s astonishing. I couldn’t be more proud of this one here.”

While West Bloomfield’s pressure defense was giving Rockford trouble, the Rams’ defense was doing the same to the Lakers. West Bloomfield was just 14 of 42 from the field, and star twins Summer and Indya Davis were held to 12 points, with Indya scoring eight.

Junior Kendall Hendrix led West Bloomfield with 12 points and seven rebounds, while senior Sydney Hendrix had 10 points.

“They came here for a reason, and they came here to beat us, because they had nothing to lose and we had everything to lose,” Kendall Hendrix said. “So, next year, we have nothing to lose. I think next year gives us more motivation.”

Another rematch isn’t far-fetched, as both teams bring back the majority of their rosters.

When asked if they expected it, Rockford’s players didn’t hesitate to answer in the affirmative.

“That’s the plan,” Wilson said.

Click for the full box score

PHOTOS (Top) Rockford’s Grace Lyons (11) shoots the go-ahead 3-pointer with 40 seconds to play Saturday in the Division 1 Final. (Middle) The Rams’ Anna Wypych (2) drives to the basket with West Bloomfield’s Sydney Hendrix (5) defending. (Below) Kayla MacLaren (14) is presented the championship trophy while her teammates celebrate.

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.)