MLS Carries Dream Run to Final Game
March 16, 2017
By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
EAST LANSING – Thursday’s first Class D Semifinal would have produced a dream-come-true scenario whichever team emerged victorious.
Saginaw Michigan Lutheran Seminary coach Brian Blaine just didn’t see that being his team when this tournament began.
A District title was the goal. Then the Regional happened. Then the Quarterfinal. And now the Cardinals have no choice but to adhere to the cliche of taking one game at a time – there’s only one left.
MLS earned its first MHSAA championship game berth with a 64-59 win over Engadine, which also was attempting to make the Finals for the first time.
“To be honest, I didn’t expect to make it this far,” Cardinals coach Brian Blaine said, answering the press conference question many an unanticipated contender is asked.
“Yes, because we wanted it,” senior center Rylee Pankow countered. “He’s always telling us you’ve got to push yourself. So (he’s) a little bit of a hypocrite there.”
All kidding aside, it’s been an incredible run – and it’s not over yet. MLS will face either Pittsford or Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart in Saturday’s 10 a.m. championship game.
The unranked Cardinals have rattled off nine straight wins to get to 18-9 overall, emerging as the fifth-place team from a Tri-Valley Conference West that produced three Regional finalists and two teams that made Tuesday’s Quarterfinals.
And yes, the math is correct – MLS was .500 when it began this run Feb. 21.
“At the beginning of the season, we started focusing on fundamentals. We knew our conference was pretty tough … and the girls just battled and battled,” Blaine said. “We kept coming together as the season progressed, and now we’ve won (nine) in a row – and I’m just really proud of these girls.”
Engadine, an honorable mention in the rankings, enjoyed a similar run. The Eagles had last made the Semifinals in 2005 and emerged this time from an Eastern Upper Peninsula Athletic Conference that had three teams get votes in the final regular-season state poll. They were shooting to reach the Regional Final – and then they beat league rival Pickford to move on to this week, where they upset No. 8 Crystal Falls Forest Park in the Quarterfinal.
“We are really happy to get this opportunity to play in here. These opportunities don’t come very often, and I think we should cherish them,” Engadine coach Roger French said. “It seems like it’s been two months ago getting to the Regionals, and our goal was to be in the Regional Final game and go from there. And we had a lot of special moments during the season as well.”
The Eagles tried to create a few more late Thursday. The teams were tied at halftime. MLS then led for the final 15 minutes and by as many as 12, although Engadine got as close as four when senior Olivia Vaughn drilled a 3-pointer with 26 seconds to play. A final 3-pointer to pull the score closer missed the mark.
Both teams made five 3-pointers, but the Cardinals made theirs on only eight tries – while connecting on 48 percent of their field goal attempts overall compared to 37 percent for the Eagles.
Pankow led MLS with 18 points, and sophomore forward Meghan Blaine added 14 including two of those 3-pointers. Junior forward Reese VanLue added another nine points and 12 rebounds.
Vaughn, who went over 1,000 career points during the District, dropped 30 in her final high school game. Junior forward Aubrey Simmons – already the school’s all-time leading rebounder – added 12 points and 11 boards.
“As a senior, obviously you want your last year to be the best. I had high hopes for this team, and after the District, it was ‘All right, maybe we can do something from here,’” Vaughn said. “To make it to Breslin senior year with this team, I can’t even describe it. It’s a great way to end my season, and I couldn’t have asked for a better way to end my career.”
The Girls Basketball Finals are presented by Sparrow Health System.
PHOTOS: (Top) Michigan Lutheran Seminary’s Rylee Pankow puts up a shot over an Engadine defender Thursday. (Middle) Engadine’s Olivia Vaughn defends the Cardinals' Meghan Blaine.
Little Provides Major Stride as 1st Woman to Officiate Boys Hoops Final since 1995
By Keith Dunlap
Special for MHSAA.com
April 13, 2023
Delonda Little was already a trailblazer to many before this year’s MHSAA Boys Basketball Finals.
But 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 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 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.