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.
Hemlock and Rockford's drives to their first Girls Basketball Finals championships in March were paced in part by some of the strongest 3-point shooting in MHSAA history.
The Division 1 title-winning Rams connected on 243 3-pointers – third-most all-time – over 29 games in tying the single-season wins record while finishing 28-1. Grace Lyons, a senior this fall, made the single-season individual list with 70 3-pointers.
The Huskies won in Division 3 having connected on 229 3-pointers over 29 games, seventh-most in MHSAA history, on 678 attempts, which ranks 12th on that list. Chloe Watson made the single-season list with 75 3-pointers, and Regan Finkbeiner did as well connecting on 67.
Watson also made the career 3-pointers list with 224 and Finkbeiner with 194, and 2017 Hemlock graduate Samantha Krauss was added for 65 3-pointers as a junior in 2015-16 and 188 for her career. Additionally, past Hemlock standout Karli Herrington was added for her 317 rebounds in 2012-13, and Peyton Apsey was added for 144 steals in 2010-11.
Watson is continuing her career at Mid-Michigan College, and Finkbeiner is playing softball at Madonna. Herrington went on to play at Central Michigan and Northwood, Krauss played at Ferris State and Apsey played at Oakland.
Read on for more recent record book additions for girls basketball:
Hudsonville’s Maddie Petroelje joined the list of top 3-point shooters in MHSAA history as a junior in 2021-22, when she connected on 70 (in just 147 attempts) to make the single-season list. She graduated this spring 16th on the career list as well with 226 3-pointers in 512 attempts over 92 games and four seasons. She is continuing at Loyola (Ill.).
Byron Center’s Avery Zeinstra also finished her career among those top 3-point shooters. She also made the single-season list with 70 in 147 attempts as a freshman in 2018-19, and she capped her career in 2021-22 with 206 3-pointers (tied for 20th-most) in 502 attempts over four seasons and 80 career games. She is continuing at Grand Valley State.
Hannah Thompson was best known for her soccer scoring at Schoolcraft. But she’s made a second MHSAA record book for her 15 steals in a Jan. 28, 2022, basketball win over Galesburg-Augusta. She’s continuing her soccer career at Eastern Michigan.
Baraga’s run to the Division 4 Semifinals in 2022 received big boosts from Corina Jahfetson’s 3-point shooting and Reide Osterman’s defense. Jahfetson was added to the record book with 66 3-pointers over 25 games, including nine in a game against Carney Nadeau – when Baraga as a team made the record book with 14 3-pointers total. Osterman made the record book with 153 steals. Jahfetson graduated this spring, and Osterman is playing at Northern Michigan.
Grand Rapids West Michigan Aviation Academy’s Audrey Mileski had one of the busiest games at the free throw line in MHSAA history Dec. 14, 2021. She made 23 free throws – third-most in a single game – against Wyoming Kelloggsville. Mileski graduated this spring.
Sophia Bussell had set Monroe’s single-game 3-pointers record of eight as a freshman two seasons ago, and she bettered it last Dec. 13 by tying for the 10th-most in MHSAA history. She made 10-pointers including the game-winner of a 58-56 victory over Ypsilanti Lincoln. A little less than 10 months earlier, Adrian Lenawee Christian then-senior Kylie Summer also made 10, on 17 attempts, during a 57-34 win over Lansing Christian on Feb. 24, 2022.
Lydia Meredith enjoyed a memorable senior season for Portland St. Patrick in 2021-22, finishing her four-year varsity career with 453 steals over just 80 games. She also was added for drilling 17 free throws in 22 attempts against Fowler. She plays now at Saginaw Valley State.
Gabby Piepho got off to a fast start at Howell as a freshman last season, and at a record-setting pace at the free-throw line. She made 93 of 107 attempts over 25 games, for an .869 percentage that made the single-season list. That included a string of 47 straight free throws that ranks as the second-longest in MHSAA history. As a team, Howell tied for sixth all-time with 301 free throws over 25 games, on 439 attempts.
Kent City’s Lexie Bowers reached the single-season 3-pointers list for the second time last season, connecting on 72 of 233 tries over 26 games (after making 77 as a junior), and finished her four-season varsity career 16th on that 3-pointers list with 225 in 693 attempts over 99 games. She’s continuing her career at Northwood. Kent City as a team also reached the single-season 3-pointers made and attempted lists again, ranking fourth with 753 attempts and tying for eighth all-time by connecting on 202.
Posen then-junior Faith Cousins earned a par of record book entries during 2021-22 for assists. Her 16 in a District Final win on March 4, 2022, remain tied for fifth-most in one game, and she finished with 165 over 22 games for the season. She’s set to begin her softball career at Alma College.
Niles Brandywine went over 20 wins again this past season, finishing 21-3, and again the 3-pointer was a key tool in that pursuit. Brandywine made the record book with back-to-back games of 13 3-pointers to close the regular season, and finished with 175 3-pointers in 592 attempts over 23 games (with one won by forfeit).
Greenville’s Megan Leslie averaged more than two 3-pointers a game during her four-season varsity career, making the record list with 153 total over 76 games through graduation this spring. She’s continuing her career at Alma College.
Successful 3-point shooting played a major role in Saline finishing 21-4 with league and District titles last winter. The Hornets attempted 704 3-pointers – ninth-most all-time for one season – and connected on 191, which is 12th on that list. They made a season-high 14 against Ypsilanti Lincoln on Nov. 29 to make the single-game list.
Marcellus senior Brooklyn VanTilburg enjoyed a big finish to her high school career last winter, making the record book with 16 blocked shots in a game against Centreville and 135 blocks total for the season. She’ll continue at Kalamazoo Valley Community College.
Kennedy Gustafson made headlines last winter as a sophomore and earned a pair of record listings for her rebounding. She grabbed 26 in a March 3 District Final win over Muskegon Western Michigan Christian, and she finished with 376 rebounds over 25 games for the season.
PHOTO Hemlock's Regan Finkbeiner, left, follows through on a free throw attempt during last season's Division 3 Final, and Rockford's Grace Lyons launches the game-winning 3-pointer in Division 1.