Playoff Poise Gives Heritage Final Edge

March 22, 2019

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

GRAND RAPIDS – Seniors Moira Joiner, Shine Strickland-Gills and Mallory McCartney have helped Saginaw Heritage to a 93-7 record over their four seasons on varsity.

They earned one more opportunity to take the court together Thursday by tapping into what’s made them one the most successful senior classes in Michigan girls basketball history.

After leading Wayne Memorial most of the first three quarters of the day’s first Division 1 Semifinal, the Hawks found themselves behind by a basket with 5:47 to play.

But the lessons of nearly 100 wins – and last year’s Class A title run – came through at the end as Heritage held on for a 58-55 win to earn the opportunity to repeat as an MHSAA champion.

Wayne also was a semifinalist last season, and provided plenty of trouble with senior Jeanae Terry scoring a game-high 26 points. But Heritage got through some rough patches – like 21 turnovers – and made 4 of 5 shots from the floor and all five free-throw attempts after trailing for 23 seconds during the final period.  

“We always said that even if our shots aren’t falling, or we’re turning it over, as long as we stick together we’ll be fine,” McCartney said. “There’s no one who can beat us if we all just stick together.”

Heritage (24-2) will play for the Division 1 championship against Southfield Arts & Technology at 12:15 p.m. Saturday at Van Noord Arena. The Hawks defeated Southfield A&T by two points in early December, and Southfield A&T hasn't lost again.

Strickland-Gills, one of the stars of last year’s Finals weekend at Calvin College, started quickly in her return Thursday, scoring 11 of her team-high 15 points during the first quarter as Heritage jumped out to a 16-8 lead.

Joiner hit stride during the third quarter with six points and three assists as the Hawks carried a 40-37 edge into the fourth. She also had six points over the final five minutes of the game, starting with a 3-pointer at 4:52 that briefly gave Heritage back a three-point lead.

Terry did her best to match, tying things back up with a 3-pointer at 3:58 and sinking another with six seconds to play.

But of those 21 Heritage turnovers, only three came after Wayne took its fourth-quarter lead. The Hawks also outrebounded the Zebras 9-4 during that final stretch.

“Due to our experience, we were like, ‘We have to value our possessions, we have to execute, we have to do what needs to be done’ – which was keep the ball in our hands and withstand the pressure,” Strickland-Gills said. “And we did that. Down the stretch we put in buckets that needed to be put in, and we took care of the ball and didn’t turn it over. We hit free throws we were supposed to, and that really secured the game for us.”

“This game, you’re playing against a very experienced team. If you don’t … capitalize when you have your chance, it’s going to be a long night for you,” Wayne coach Jarvis Mitchell concurred. “That’s a championship-caliber team. They answered the call.”

Freshman guard Lauren Gunn had four of her nine points and an assist as well during the closing stretch. Joiner – a Miss Basketball Award finalist this winter – finished the game with 14 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. McCartney added 10 points and three steals, and Strickland-Gills also grabbed 12 rebounds despite being limited a bit with foul trouble.

“We’ve been talking about that for four years with Mo, and the versatility and the fact that she plays every position on the floor,” Heritage coach Vonnie DeLong said. “She guards the best player, she rebounds, she gets assists. I did not realize she had a triple double, and that’s what’s neat about it – it’s so quiet. She’s not flashy, but she’s extremely good and very talented and has such a high basketball IQ, it enables her to do everything she does.”

Terry connected on five 3-pointers on the way to her game-high scoring total and had five rebounds, three assists and six steals. Senior forward Jayah Hicks added 14 points and seven rebounds, and sophomore forward Alanna Micheaux grabbed eight rebounds.

The Zebras started off cold, making just 3 of 17 shots in the first quarter – but improved their shooting percentage every quarter after that to get back on the verge of the Final.

The Semifinal appearance was the second straight for Wayne, which finished 24-3 after going winless only five seasons ago in Mitchell’s first running the program.

“I thought we were really close this year,” Mitchell said of taking another step as a championship contender. “The thing is, is basketball, you can’t control it. You can’t control sometimes the ball falling in. All you can control is how hard you play. And that’s always been my goal in talking to the kids and telling them, ‘I’m just proud of how hard you’re playing.’ Some shots are going to go in, turnovers are going to happen, but the most important thing is we play to get better – whether it’s the state championship or the first game of the year.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Heritage’s Keyonie Champion gets up a shot during Friday’s first Division 1 Semifinal at Van Noord Arena. (Middle) The Hawks’ Shine Strickland-Gills (32) and teammates defend the post.

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.