Stifling D, Board Domination Earns Fowler Full Repeat Celebration

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

March 19, 2022

EAST LANSING – Carly Andros could have simply gotten back on defense. 

The Fowler junior missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with less than two minutes to play Saturday in a game her team had essentially already wrapped up.

But Andros did what Fowler had done throughout its 61-46 Division 4 Girls Basketball Final victory against Plymouth Christian Academy – crashed the boards, secured the offensive rebound and turned an empty possession into a layup.

Fowler dominated the glass on its way to a second-straight Finals title, out-rebounding Plymouth Christian 42-20, including a 15-2 edge on the offensive boards. Fowler turned that into 14 second-chance points, continually turning Plymouth Christian defensive stops into backbreaking scoring plays.

“We’re not the most imposing team, but they just work so hard and they’re always going at the glass,” Fowler coach Nathan Goerge said. “We talk about taking away second-chance opportunities for the other team, and because we’re willing to attack the offensive glass, we have so many second-chance opportunities. So it’s just a huge opportunity for us.”

It was the third title for the Fowler program, which had three Finals appearances during the 1990s, including the Class D win in 1991.

Fowler/Plymouth Christian basketballWinning a second straight would have been special on its own, but being able to celebrate with a large contingent of fellow students and fans – which was missing last year because of COVID-19 protocols – added to the experience.

“We are so blessed to have had both of these opportunities,” Fowler senior Mia Riley said. “Even last year when the fans couldn’t come. It was, not really downplayed, but people couldn’t be there and it wasn’t the same environment. To be able to have it this year and to be able to get everything (that was missing) last year just made everything so worth it. It was such a great experience, and I’m so glad to go through it with this group of girls.”

Riley led Fowler with 15 points and 12 rebounds, while her younger sister, Emma, had 14 points. Emma Riley scored her 1,000th career point early in the third quarter.

Grace Epkey added 10 points and 11 rebounds for Fowler. Taylor Weber had nine points on a trio of 3-pointers, and Andros had seven rebounds.

“Understandably so, (the Riley sisters) get so much attention because they’re such fantastic players,” Goerge said. “I kind of said it before, this game was going to come down to our role players, if you will, and all of them stepped up huge. It was a total team win for us tonight. I couldn’t be happier for the girls.”

Senior Anna Fernandez scored 23 points to lead Plymouth Christian in her final high school game. Junior Morganne Houk added 17 points.

Fowler/Plymouth Christian basketball“Our kids came to win,” Plymouth Christian coach Rod Windle said. “There was a little bit of disappointment at the end in terms of what they dreamed for, what they hoped for. Certainly, in reflection when the day is done there will be some rejoicing about the season we had. I’m really proud of the effort these players gave. They’re competitors, they dream big and they got after it tonight.”

Plymouth Christian was within four midway through the second quarter, but a 9-0 Fowler run over the final 2:21 of the half blew the game open.

Weber started it with a 3-pointer, and Mia Riley and Epkey ended it, working for a pair of layups in the final minute to put their team up 27-14 at the break.

Plymouth Christian, meanwhile, went scoreless over the final 4:25 of the half.

Fowler didn’t shoot well during the first half (10 of 30), but grabbed nine offensive rebounds and had seven second-chance points. Epkey had five offensive boards herself in the half.

Fowler also moved the ball effectively and had eight assists on 10 first-half field goals. While piling up twice as many assists as turnovers (four), their defense forced seven first-half turnovers of Plymouth Christian.

That, combined with 5 of 20 shooting, made offense difficult for Plymouth Christian.

“Plymouth Christian is a fantastic team with exceptional guard play, so the challenge was to contain (Fernandez and Houk) and kind of run them off the 3-point line as best we could,” Goerge said. “I’m sure those two had some high-scoring totals, but I thought overall the girls did an amazing job defensively.”

Plymouth Christian got as close as eight points in the third quarter, but each time it did, Fowler had an answer. That included a pair of 3s from Madison Wirth and another from Weber late in the third, with each directly countering big plays from Houk and Fernandez and giving Fowler an 11-point lead heading into the fourth quarter.

“We made some runs that I thought might roll into us coming back, but we got denied by their own runs,” Windle said. “They were able to run back and continue to maintain their lead tonight.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS (Top) Fowler celebrates its repeat Division 4 championship Saturday at Breslin Center. (Middle) The Eagles’ Mia Riley (25) dips into the lane among Plymouth Christian’s defenders including Grace Fernandes (4) and Sophia Arlen-Olsen (12). (Below) Carly Andros (4) gets up a shot as Morganne Houk (2) defends. (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.