By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
EAST LANSING – Both teams playing in the first MHSAA Class B Semifinal on Friday had learned valuable lessons from their trip to the Breslin Center – and Semifinal defeat – the year before.
But only one could move on to Saturday night’s championship game.
Midland Bullock Creek, with only two seniors, plans on using a few more helpful pointers from this season’s trip in 2014-15. But Grand Rapids South Christian, with seven seniors, will lay it all on the line this time after downing the Lancers 52-47.
The top-ranked Sailors will attempt to win their first MHSAA title since 1988 and finish a perfect 27-0 at 6 p.m. Saturday against Eaton Rapids.
“Coming into this with five seniors starting helped a lot with experience. Last year … I remember walking into this big building like, “Wow,” with all the nerves,” South Christian senior Cassidy Vredevoogd said.
“This has been a dream of mine since I was a little girl. Getting so close last year was unbelievable. Getting to the Finals now, it’s unreal.”
That’s not to say there weren’t some jitters among the Sailors at the start. But veteran calm won out by the end, a good thing considering one key stat that made it almost surprising that South Christian came away with the win.
The Sailors turned the ball over 33 times – after doing so only five in its Quarterfinal win over Parchment on Tuesday – but balanced that with a 44-25 rebounding advantage and by making 82 percent of their free-throw attempts. Bullock Creek made only 54 percent of those tries and watched their chances dissolve with a 4 for 21 performance from 3-point range.
The Lancers made only 2 of 10 trey tries during the fourth quarter as a one-point lead with 6 minutes left turned into the final deficit.
“Some were a little deeper than we normally would like to see, and that was a combination of their length and then fatigue a little bit,” Bullock Creek coach Justin Freeland said. “But I thought the best course the last 4-5 minutes was to encourage them. … And I truly believed we would hit the final two and go home and be playing (Saturday).”
Bullock Creek may have had a chance to create some space during the second quarter, if not for the key performance of Sailors sophomore sub Markaya Vander. She scored all 11 of her points plus grabbed four rebounds as South Christian’s first-quarter lead turned into only a three-point halftime deficit.
Morgan Torres scored as well to finish that second quarter for the Sailors, and finished tying for the team high with 11 points including seven during the second half. Twice she either tied the score or gave the Sailors a lead.
Vredevoogd added eight points and seven rebounds and senior forward Renee Broekhuizen had six points, eight rebound and three assists. Seniors scored 10 of the points during the Sailors’ closing 12-6 run.
“We have seven seniors who were all here last year, and that experience has been a key factor in our terrific season,” South Christian coach James De Bruyn said. “They set the tone with their leadership, and when crunch time came down they found a way. And they found it again tonight.”
Bullock Creek (24-2) should find itself with a similar opportunity next winter. Only two seniors graduate, and all five starters plus three top subs should return.
Junior center Halee Nieman led the Lancers on Friday with 18 points and seven steals. Junior guard Hannah Heldt added 16 points, five rebounds and five steals.
“It burns really badly, especially right now. Tonight’s going to be tough, but it only motivates us to work harder in the summer, harder in the postseason, harder in the regular season next season,” Heldt said. “We learn from these experiences. We learned from last year, and we did a lot of things better than last year. We definitely improved, and this is a motivator for next year for sure.”
PHOTOS: (Top) South Christian’s Jennifer DeBoer goes after a loose ball as multiple Bullock Creek players also pursue. (Middle) Bullock Creek’s Ellie Juengel launches a jumper over the Sailors’ Morgan Torres.
HIGHLIGHTS: (1) Midway through the first quarter, Bullock Creek's Halee Nieman scores on a putback of her own missed free throw against South Christian. (2) With 1:41 left in the fourth, South Christian's Dani Oeverman hits a big jump shot to give the Sailors a five-point lead.
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.