EAST LANSING – Even on St. Patrick’s Day, seemingly the entire town of Rockford managed to turn the normally green Breslin Center into a sea of orange for Friday’s second Division 1 Semifinal at Breslin Center.
Both coaches admitted that the raucous Rockford crowd – almost all wearing orange T-shirts with a Rams logo on the front and filling about half of the lower bowl – had a huge impact on the game, particularly the start, as the Rams bolted to a 24-7 lead after the first quarter.
“How about those Rockford fans?” said sixth-year Rams coach Brad Wilson, before he even introduced his players at the postgame press conference. “When you look out there and see a sea of orange, it’s unbelievable.”
Buoyed by that crowd and equally unbelievable shooting, Rockford blitzed Detroit Renaissance, 65-42, to advance to the Division 1 championship game for the first time in school history.
Rockford, 27-1 and winners of the Ottawa-Kent Conference Red, will face reigning champion West Bloomfield in Saturday’s 12:15 p.m. title game.
The game will be a rematch of last year’s epic Semifinal, where West Bloomfield prevailed, 66-63, before knocking off Hartland the next day for the title.
The Rams would love to get off to the type of start they had on Friday.
Rockford made 11-of-13 field goals (84.6 percent) in the first quarter, including 2-of-3 from 3-point range, getting the huge crowd involved early.
“We didn’t come out scared at all,” said Rockford junior sharpshooter Grace Lyons, noting it was helpful that her team played at the Breslin last year. “We came out ready to play from the get-go, and now we want to finish this thing.”
Lyons led all scorers with 23 points, making 3-of-6 from 3-point range, while senior Michigan Tech commit Alyssa Wypych scored 13 points with a game-high seven rebounds and her sophomore sister, Anna Wypych, added 12 points.
The Rams cooled off slightly in the second quarter, but still finished the half 15-of-21 from the floor (71.4 percent), and led 39-26.
Renaissance (23-2), which was seeking its first title since capturing the Class B championship in 2005, came out of halftime fired up and used an 8-0 run to trim the lead to just five points.
“We went back to our identity in the third quarter,” said Renaissance junior guard Christian Sanders, who led her team with 17 points. “Had we done that sooner, it may have been a different story.”
The key point of the game occurred right after the Phoenix made their run, and Wilson called a timeout to calm his team down.
Rockford responded with a 9-0 run of its own – using a pair of two-point baskets by Lyons, a bucket by Anna Wypych and a key 3-pointer off the bench from senior Madee Whitford – to push the lead back to 14 points.
The Phoenix, a young team with only three seniors, were never able to threaten the rest of the game.
“You have to give Rockford credit,” said first-year Renaissance coach Dashaun Wood. “They had a big fan base, and I think they fed off of that. We finally got back to who we normally are there in the third quarter, but sometimes when you dig a hole that deep, you burn all your energy just coming back.”
Amyah Espanol, one of two senior starters for the Phoenix, scored 13 points and junior Makayla Johnson added nine.
Rockford finished the game with 54 percent shooting (compared to 29.5 percent for Renaissance) and held a decisive 33-20 rebounding edge.
The Rams will make the one-hour drive home, which is just north of Grand Rapids, and Wilson said he and his assistant coaches will likely stay up all night preparing for West Bloomfield.
“No sleep ’til Breslin, that’s a real thing,” Wilson said with a grin. “We just need to stick to our brand of basketball. West Bloomfield is very good, but we’re really good, too, and I think we’re going to come out and show that we belong to be there.”
PHOTOS (Top) Rockford’s Sienna Wolfe (33) brings the ball upcourt during Friday’s Semifinal win over Renaissance. (Middle) Anna Wypych (2) makes a move toward the basket around a pick from teammate Grace Lyons.
STAMBAUGH — Danica Shamion has enjoyed plenty of success in track & field throughout her high school athletic career.
The West Iron County senior is also quite successful in basketball.
Shamion joined the 1,000-point club here Jan. 23 while scoring 34 in a 63-60 loss to Norway.
“That really felt good,” she said after last week’s 93-41 win over Bessemer on Senior Night. “I’m glad I was able to do that at home. Although, it would have been even better had we won that game.”
The Wykons scored five in double digits against the Speedgirls, led by senior Siena Stine with 20 points. Junior center Sidney Storti added 17 points, and Shamion finished with 16 points and 17 assists.
“Sidney is a real asset to our team,” Shamion said. “I can see the floor pretty well, and the other girls are doing a pretty good job getting open. This was our last home game. It definitely meant something to us.”
Shamion, an All-Upper Peninsula Division 1-3 first-team selection a year ago, twisted her ankle in a season-opening 47-40 triumph over Iron Mountain and missed the next three games.
West Iron was 1-3 going into the holiday break before getting back on track with a 42-28 victory over Kingsford on Jan. 2. That enabled the Wykons to improve to 4-3 before dropping six of their next seven games.
West Iron, which was 5-9 after dropping a 73-55 decision at Negaunee, had won four in a row prior to Thursday’s 46-44 loss at Calumet. But the Wykons bounced back with a 51-49 win over Ishpeming Westwood on Tuesday to get back to .500 at 10-10.
“We were trying to forge our identity and weren’t hitting our shots (earlier in the season),” Shamion said. “Although, we’ve been playing better defense lately. We’re pretty good one-on-one and usually play man-to-man. We try to run the floor and score in transition.
“Negaunee is probably the best team we’ve seen this year, although Ishpeming and Houghton are also very good and Calumet and Westwood are tough,” she added.
In track & field, Shamion set U.P. Division 2 Finals record in the 200-meter dash (26.34 seconds) and 400 (57.18) last season. She also won the 100 (12.79) and placed second in high jump at 4 feet, 10 inches. She is a three-time Finals champion in all three sprint races.
Shamion also made the all-U.P. Volleyball Dream Team in the fall.
She will continue on the track at Central Michigan University after she graduates from West Iron this spring.
“I didn’t know much about their program, but I was interested in what they had to offer,” she said. “The girls on the team are nice, which is part of the reason why I chose Central. It’s a relief to have that decided.”
John Vrancic has covered high school sports in the Upper Peninsula since joining the Escanaba Daily Press staff in 1985. He is known most prominently across the peninsula for his extensive coverage of cross country and track & field that frequently appears in newspapers from the Wisconsin border to Lake Huron. He received the James Trethewey Award for Distinguished Service in 2015 from the Upper Peninsula Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association.
PHOTOS (Top) West Iron’s Danica Shamion (24) blocks a shot during her team’s game at Ishpeming on Jan. 15. (Middle) Shamion maintains possession of the ball. (Photos by Cara Kamps.)