Marshall Believes, Earns Title Game Trip

March 18, 2016

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor 

EAST LANSING – Believe it. Marshall will play Saturday for its first MHSAA girls basketball championship.

But only because the Redhawks believed they would – all the way through two free throws with 1.4 seconds to play that made it so. 

Junior Nikki Tucker was “a little nervous” when the future of her team’s best season in more than 30 years fell to her ability to make a free throw – and hopefully two – with Marshall trailing by a point and barely a second left on the clock.

What transpired next cemented the final few moments of Friday’s Class B Semifinal against Bay City John Glenn among the series of finishes that are remembered annually this time of year, and sent Marshall into Saturday’s championship game with a 43-42 win.

“My teammates talked to me and my coach talked to me, and I realized that I could do it,” Tucker said. “Jill (Konkle) told me, “Nikki, you do this every day in practice.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I do.’ I knew there would be no doubt I was going to put them in, and we were going to win, because that’s what I needed to do to win and that’s what we were going to do.”

Marshall (25-1), ranked No. 7 heading into the postseason, will take on No. 3 Grand Rapids South Christian at 6 p.m. Saturday in its first Final since finishing Class B runner-up in 1981. 

Redhawks coach Sal Konkle was a player on that team, and her words before and during Friday’s game prodded her players to believe they could make it to Saturday, even if, as she said after, “almost every other fan in here, any basketball junkie, would say that Marshall wasn’t going to win.”

That may have been a bit of an exaggeration, but it’s tough to argue with her assumption. Although both teams had only one loss entering the postseason, John Glenn (25-2) had beaten the top-ranked team in Class A, Southfield Lathrup, and went on to beat three top-10 Class B teams on the way to Breslin. The Bobcats’ only loss before Friday came against Ypsilanti Arbor Prep, which will play Saturday for the Class C title.

And John Glenn featured three players who could star on most teams in Michigan, including Miss Basketball finalist Cassidy Boench – who nearly ended the Semifinal as the crunch time hero.

“She was huge. I don’t know how many of (her rebounds) were in that fourth quarter, but quite a few,” said John Glenn coach Cory Snider of the 6-foot-3 Boench and her 16 rebounds, including six during the final period. “I thought that she had to play with a little bit of a different attitude early on in the game when she got in foul trouble. That took away some of her aggressiveness, her ability to go get rebounds. And then when she made it through the third quarter with still only three (fouls), she was able to become a little more aggressive and I thought that that showed in her rebounding.”

Neither team led by more than four points over the final 14:53 of the game, with John Glenn holding that advantage with 3:56 to play. Junior guard Taryn Long made a 3-pointer to pull Marshall within one, and Tucker’s basket with 42 seconds left put the Redhawks ahead by a point.

But Tucker's foul with 14 seconds left sent Boensch, attempting a putback, to the line for two free throws – and she made both to give the Bobcats the one-point advantage at 42-41.

“We practice those all the time in our gym, and I just cleared my head I guess,” Boensch said. “I knew that my team had my back no matter what, so (I) just focused.”

Marshall’s ensuing inbounds pass fell back out of bounds off a John Glenn player. The Redhawks eventually got the ball into Jill Konkle’s hands, and her last-second layup attempt bounced in and out of the basket – but Tucker was there to gather the rebound and draw a foul, this time from Boensch who was going for a block.

The rest is Finals history.

“I told the girls, ‘After Nikki makes these, don’t foul.’ Plain and simple,” Coach Konkle said. “I was confident she was going to make them. And honestly, if we wanted anybody at the line, it’s Nikki.”

John Glenn’s final shot of the game fell short.

Tucker, only a 61-percent free throw shooter heading into the week, made 5 of 6 Friday and finished with 14 points and seven rebounds. Long added 10 points.

Senior guard Jenai LaPorte, who will graduate as John Glenn’s all-time leading scorer, added 16 points to her total. Boensch had 14 points.

“It’s been a crazy run in the tournament this year. I think it’s even better knowing that we’re going to the state finals and a lot people didn’t think we could do it,” Tucker said. “Everyone’s like, ‘Oh, where’s Marshall?’ Well, we’re in the state finals now.”

“You just want your kids … to experience what you experienced in high school,” Konkle added. “Going to the state finals was one of the best experiences I ever had. Mind you, we lost, and these guys are going to see to it that we don’t lose. … (But) the fact that we’re in the state finals is something these guys have dreamed about forever. I’ve dreamed of it for them, and now they’re making it come true.”

Click for the full box score.

The Girls Basketball Finals are presented by Sparrow Health System. 

PHOTOS: (Top) Marshall players surround Nikki Tucker after her free throws sent the Redhawks to the Class B Final. (Middle) John Glenn guard Kalle Martinez (11) looks to get past Marshall’s Jill Konkle.

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.