Riley Sisters, Fowler Hold Off Baraga Rush to Earn Repeat Opportunity

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for

March 17, 2022

EAST LANSING – With Thursday night’s Division 4 Semifinal hanging in the balance, Fowler coach Nathan George knew who he could count on.

In fact, he knew two players he could look lean on in tense moments, and they happen to be from the same family.

Emma and Mia Riley made clutch free throws during the final minute to stave off a furious comeback attempt from upset-minded Baraga.

The Eagles hung on to defeat the Vikings 51-45 at the Breslin Center and advance to the Finals for the second straight year as they seek to repeat as Division 4 champions.

“They play a lot of basketball, so there’s not a lot of situations where they get truly overwhelmed,” George said. “So I had confidence in them that they were going to hit free throws. It got crazy late, but we were lucky the ball bounced our way and we were able to put the game away.”

Mia Riley, a senior, delivered a double-double with a game-high 24 points and 11 rebounds, while Emma, a junior, had 17 points and nine rebounds.

Baraga/Fowler basketballClinging to a one-point lead (45-44) with 54 seconds left, Mia Riley made a pair of free throws to extend the lead.

After Baraga’s Reide Osterman made 1 of 2 free throws, it was Emma Riley’s turn with 29 seconds left, and she too calmly knocked down both to give the Eagles a four-point cushion.

“It’s like everything you’ve ever practiced for and it makes all that hard work pay off when you can be in that position and finally get the chance to prove yourself,” Mia Riley said. “That was the time to step up, and I’m thankful that I did it.”

Said Emma Riley: “It was pretty scary to be up there and just knowing that we needed the free throws, but we just had to do exactly what we always practice and they should fall.”

Fowler (23-3) will have the opportunity to repeat as Division 4 champion facing Plymouth Christian Academy in Saturday’s 10 a.m. Final.

“Since we've been here before, we’re somewhat used to playing at the Breslin so it’s kind of a comforting thing to know that we’ve been here and we’ve done it before,” Mia Riley said. “We can do it again, and we have those capabilities. It’s a lot nicer since we can have the stands filled and it's not so quiet like last year.”

Fowler built a commanding first-quarter lead as its defense forced turnovers that led to easy baskets on the other end.

Avery Koenigsknecht knocked down a 3-pointer at the buzzer to cap a 12-0 run as the Eagles held a 17-4 advantage.

Baraga trimmed the deficit to 28-18 by halftime and got as close as one from the lead twice during the decisive fourth quarter.

“Give Baraga a lot of credit because they played a good game and probably worked harder than us overall,” George said. “That's something I didn’t expect, and we need to be much more focused and play with more energy come Saturday. I fully believe we will, but I hope this was a wake-up call for the girls and I know it was for me.”

Baraga (23-2) was making its first trip to the Semifinals since 1992, and was the only Upper Peninsula school to make it this far this week.

First-year coach Tyler Larson was proud of his team’s effort in nearly erasing the early double-digit deficit and upsetting the reigning champion.

“Just a tough one,” Larson said. “We didn’t come out the way we wanted to, but we kept it close enough where we could hang around in the second half.

“It was like a boxing match with taking turns swinging and landing punches. We climbed our way back, and I’m very proud of the way the girls handled a little adversity on such a big stage. We just fell a little short in the end.”

Osterman, a senior, led the Vikings with 17 points and nine rebounds, while sophomore Makenna Hendrickson added eight points and eight rebounds.

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS (Top) Fowler’s Mia Riley (25) drives the lane during Thursday’s Division 4 Semifinal win at Breslin Center. (Middle) Baraga’s Kylie Michaelson (15) gets a shot up over the Eagles’ defense. (Click for more from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)

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.