Pittsford Caps Finals Return as Champ

March 19, 2016

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor 

EAST LANSING – Laura Smith's emotions whirled like a tornado Saturday afternoon.

After her team came so close a year ago to winning its first MHSAA championship, the Pittsford senior was ecstatic. 

But realizing immediately that her four-year varsity career was done after an incredible 91-8 run, she was sad as well.

What a way to finish. The Wildcats, who ended their first MHSAA Finals trip with an overtime loss a year ago, all but wrapped up their first championship during the third quarter of a 48-30 Class D victory over Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart at the Breslin Center.

“Just coming here last year, I was so nervous. Then we lost, and it was devastating,” Smith said. “This year, when we won, I didn’t know how to feel. I was so happy, and then I started crying because it was my last game. I don’t want to leave these girls; they’re my best friends, and we play so well together on the court. But I’ll come back next year and watch them win again.”

Pittsford closed this winter 27-0, to go with finishes of 16-6, 22-1 and 26-1, respectively, over the last three seasons.

And “tornado” was the operative word of the day, the result of the Wildcats’ most meaningful lesson learned during last season’s championship game loss to St. Ignace.

Pittsford led that game 34-21 at halftime and by eight with a  quarter to play before the Saints came back to tie it by the end of regulation and win 64-60 with the extra period. 

Hence “tornado,” Pittsford’s appropriately named halfcourt pressure defense that led to many of Sacred Heart’s 29 turnovers – off which the Wildcats scored 37 of their 48 points. 

“We kept our intensity up the entire game, pressuring the entire game,” Pittsford junior guard Jaycie Burger said. “Last year … we came out and our defense just fell apart. The whole game (today), at halftime, we told each other we have to play defense, we’re still playing defense, and that’s what helped us out.

“We really wanted to win this game a lot, and every time we scored a basket, got a turnover, we were just that much closer to winning the game.”

That began to become apparent during Pittsford’s 9-0 run to end the first half that included six Sacred Heart turnovers and put the Wildcats up 22-13.

The run continued with the first seven points of the third quarter, coming off three more turnovers. 

“Their pressure really caused us to move a little faster than we wanted to,” Sacred Heart coach Damon Brown said. “They made it difficult for us to get into our offense, and when you can’t get into your offense it’s difficult to be effective. I thought we did a good job in the first half of managing that, but then they had that run right there at halftime. I think that got us on our heels, and we were scrambling a bit to try to adjust from there.”

The Irish (24-2) had been held to 30 or fewer points three more times this season, but had won all three of those games. 

“We can still work on it,” Pittsford coach Chris Hodos joked. “No, our defense is outstanding. You saw it in our Semifinal game. Our Quarterfinal game, I think we had 24 steals. I asked them to work harder (earlier this winter). We went to some different drills halfway through the season. They did what I asked them – a pretty easy team to coach.”

Like Waterford Our Lady on Thursday, Sacred Heart also couldn’t contain Pittsford junior forward Maddie Clark. She made 10 of 15 shots for 23 points and grabbed 10 rebounds to go with her 24 points and 16 rebounds in the Semifinal.

She and senior Madison Ayers also combined to stifle Irish senior center Averi Gamble, who got off only five shots and finished with eight points – half her average. Freshman guard Scout Nelson was the team’s leading scorer with nine. 

Gamble and senior guard Megan English also started on the team that won the Class D championship in 2014. This season they were joined in the starting lineup by three underclassmen and mentored a team that should return the other five players who saw the floor Saturday.

“It doesn’t always have to be about winning. Just being with these girls is a blessing in itself,” Gamble said.

“The way these girls competed all 32 minutes, that was just amazing,” English added. “I wouldn’t want to play with any other team and finish with any other team.” 

Ayers, who like Smith played on the varsity as a freshman and sophomore, took off last season but returned this winter after being persuaded by her past and now current teammates and also by how much desire they showed during last season’s run. Ayers finished with eight points and Burger had 11, three assists and four steals.

All but Smith and Ayers should be back next season, when the Wildcats will attempt to add to the current juniors’ career record of 75-2.

“From (when we were) little, we’ve always wanted to win,” Clark said. “Seventy-five and two, that’s pretty amazing. We want to keep it going; (we've) got one more year. 

“When we were little we played junior pro together, and our junior pro record growing up was like 100-10, so we don’t really know how to lose,” Burger added. “I mean, we don’t like to lose. … It’s been a great, great opportunity that we’ve had. To go through three years with only two losses is a really special thing, and I’m just thankful we get to do it together.”

Click for the full box score.

The Girls Basketball Finals are presented by Sparrow Health System.  

PHOTOS: (Top) Pittsford players including Laura Smith (14) and Madison Ayers (15) celebrate their first MHSAA girls basketball championship. (Middle) Sacred Heart’s Sophie Ruggles works to get to the basket as Pittsford’s Maddie Clark defends.

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.

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.