Still #1: Heritage Lands 2nd Straight Title

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

March 23, 2019

GRAND RAPIDS – Not often is the reigning champion the hunter and not the hunted. But that’s how the Saginaw Heritage girls basketball approached this season. 

With the graduation of some key members from the 2018 Class A title team, the Hawks felt they were being overlooked.

On Saturday, they re-established themselves as the top team among the state’s largest schools, now classified as Division 1. 

Behind a stifling defense, Heritage earned a second straight MHSAA title by defeating top-ranked Southfield Arts & Technology 55-40 at Van Noord Arena on the campus of Calvin College.

“If anything, we kind of felt underestimated, like a lot of people didn’t think we were going to get right back,” Heritage senior Shine Strickland-Gills said. “We lost two players, and they scored a lot … and it didn’t look like we had much coming in through the tunnel after them, so they didn’t really think we were going to go back again. But we wanted to prove them all wrong, and our whole thing was to stick together. Our end goal, everybody’s end goal, was to play in the last game and win. We just knew what we had to do, and we made sure that got done.” 

It was the third MHSAA championship for the Hawks (25-2), and it seemed fitting it was this senior class that spearheaded these last two. Strickland-Gills and classmates Moira Joiner and Mallory McCartney have been playing together for more than a decade, and had predicted they could accomplish this before they got into high school. 

“They were eighth graders the last time we were in a Final Four, and they all cut school and came down to the Breslin Center and watched Heritage,” Hawks coach Vonnie DeLong said. “We lost that day, and they told me that day, ‘We’re getting back here and we’re winning it, Coach.’ They made good on their promise to me.” 

Heritage looked like a team that knew it was supposed to be playing in Saturday’s moment, taking control early and remaining calm and composed while clinically finishing it off.  

The Hawks were hitting 50 percent of their 3-pointers at one point in the third quarter, and finished the game with 19 assists on 20 made baskets. Joiner led the way with 17 points, eight rebounds and eight assists, nearly matching the triple double she had in Friday’s Semifinal against Wayne Memorial. Strickland-Gills added 16 points, eight rebounds, six assists and six blocks, while junior Keyonie Champion had 12 points. McCartney added seven points, five rebounds and five assists. 

“Having them be seniors, not just seniors, but having been in this game before – having been in these big games is huge,” DeLong said. “Today they just knew. I talked to them this morning and told them, ‘This is it, last time you’re ever going to play together – you're going to keep playing, but not together – and this is the last chance you got. I’m going to tell you right now, last game senior year, if you can go out a winner, that’s absolutely the way you want to go.’” 

While Heritage didn’t have much trouble settling in, the Hawks made it hard for the Warriors (24-2) to do so, especially on the offensive end. They played zone and closed down on everything in the paint, forcing Southfield A&T into its worst offensive performance of the season.  

It was only the second time all year the Warriors – who shot 16 of 47 (34 percent) from the field – were held below 50 points. The other time was a 45-43 loss to Heritage in the second game of the season. 

“They were in a zone, and the zone packed it in a little bit, and we were struggling to find some gaps to attack,” Southfield A&T coach Michele Marshall said. “We play inside-out, and it just appeared the gaps were not there. If they were, when we tried to attack, we were just a little bit hesitant.” 

Zone isn’t the typical defensive setup for Heritage, but DeLong said possible fatigue from the previous night’s Semifinal and the importance of keeping Strickland-Gills out of foul trouble pushed her to make the change. 

“I don’t think we’ve played a full game of zone all year this year,” DeLong said. “We played it a couple times last year, and it worked in the Final. We talked about it last night, watched some film today and did some walkthrough at a gym this morning. Most of them have played our zone enough, so they know what to do, but a couple of our kids are a little shaky. But we got them through, and it worked.” 

The Warriors shot 6 of 21 (28.6 percent) in the first half, and just 2 of 8 (25 percent) in the second quarter. They played more than six minutes of the second quarter without star forward Alexis Johnson, who was sidelined with three fouls. 

Heritage was able to take advantage during that span, stretching its lead to 11 points by halftime and never looking back. 

Soleil Barnes led Southfield A&T with 14 points, while Cheyenne McEvans had 13.  

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Heritage’s Mallory McCartney looks for open teammates Saturday during the Division 1 Final. (Middle) A&T’s Cheyenne McEvans directs her team’s offense.

JoBurg 3-Sport Great Capping Career Filled with All-State Honors, Team Trophies

By Tom Spencer
Special for

April 5, 2024

It won’t be hard for Jayden Marlatt to remember opening day on the softball field from any of her four years at Johannesburg-Lewiston.

Northern Lower PeninsulaAs a freshman, she missed the opener due to needing to quarantine. Her sophomore and junior years started on the road because the Cardinals’ field was under construction.  

This season the Cardinals will open up — weather permitting — on their brand-new field, hosting Mio on Monday, April 8.  Marlatt is slated to be the starting pitcher again and add to her school record collection.

While Johannesburg-Lewiston is looking forward to playing on the new diamond, Marlatt and her teammates have high hopes of finishing the season almost 200 miles south. They’re looking to get back to Michigan State University – the site of the Division 4 Semifinals and Final.

The Cards have had their sites on that goal since they fell 4-2 to Mendon in last year’s Semifinal at Secchia Stadium. The loss ended a 30-4-1 campaign that saw the Cardinals play every game on the road for a second consecutive year, but come up only one victory short of a first championship game appearance.

The trip to East Lansing also came after the Cards won the program’s first District title since 2008 and advanced to the Semifinals for the first time since 1981.

“It has been a long two seasons on the road,” said eighth-year head coach Kim Marlatt, noting the team utilized a Little League field for practices during the stretch. “They’ve been putting in a lot of work in the offseason, so it is excited to get going.”

Cardinals’ 1,000-point scorer Marlatt sets up for a free throw attempt. The new field isn’t the only new things this spring. The Cardinals will have a junior varsity team for the first time during the Marlatt’s tenure. The JV squad is coached by Ryan Marlatt, who has been serving the program the past eight years as assistant coach. He also has been the head girls basketball coach at JoBurg the past two seasons.

The Marlatt coaches are the proud parents of Jayden, who continues to garner recognition as perhaps the greatest athlete in Johannesburg-Lewiston’s history. 

The three-sport star had a huge hand in all that JoBurg accomplished last season leading the team in batting average (.670), home runs (13) and runs batted in (61). As the team’s ace pitcher, she collected 249 strikeouts and compiled a 1.32 ERA.

“Jayden has put in the hard work,” Kim pointed out.  “She is a very humble athlete. ‘She doesn’t like to talk about herself. She likes to compete, and she likes to be on the top of her game for her teammates.”

Jayden has been named all-conference and all-state in softball, basketball and volleyball nearly every season over her four years at JoBurg. She’s led her teams to Ski Valley Conference, District and Regional titles along the way.

She’s also been named Player of the Year by multiple publications. And she’s a front runner to be voted the Most Valuable Player of the Ski Valley Conference in softball. Earlier this year, league coaches voted her the MVP for both basketball and volleyball.  

“The Ski Valley never used to vote on an MVP,” Ryan Marlatt said. “Hopefully she can add the triple crown and get softball this year.”

Jayden Marlatt, who has played all three sports all four years, acknowledged softball is perhaps her most treasured, and she’ll continue in that sport at Ferris State. Her career total of more than 500 strikeouts, and her 14 home runs last season, are both JoBurg school records. "I like them all but probably softball,” she confirmed when asked to name her favorite sport.

She averaged 12 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3.3 assists and four steals per game this winter helping the Cards basketball team to a conference runner-up finish. She was key to JoBurg's ability to put a 12-game winning streak together, and she topped the 1,000-point career mark along the way.

Also a standout in the fall, Marlatt prepares to connect during volleyball season.Her outstanding senior year on the basketball court and this spring’s possibilities nearly vanished as the volleyball season ended.

She suffered what looked to be a serious lower-leg injury in the final game of the JoBurg volleyball season. “She finished in the emergency room,” Kim Marlatt said.  

Diagnosed a high ankle sprain, it was an aggravation to an injury from her junior year in basketball. She wasn’t quite at 100 percent on the basketball court this season until the holiday break. She’s starting the softball season healthy, though.

Before the injury, Jayden led the Cards to their third volleyball conference championship over the last four years. After becoming JoBurg's all-time kills leader during her junior season, and with many of her teammates from her first three seasons graduating, Jayden had to fill a variety of roles while anchoring the offense from her outside hitter spot.

She ended up leading the team in both kills with 421 and digs, with 431, in her final season on the volleyball court. And she is listed among MHSAA’s all-time leaders in kills for a single match and career.

It’s more than Marlatt’s stats that stand out for Kristine Peppin, the school’s volleyball coach the past 15 years.

“It is not about the size of the school or the size of the player, it’s the heart that they have inside,” she proclaimed. “This girl would be a successful player on whatever team she was on. 

“Yes we’re a small school, small town,” she continued. “That kind of leadership and heart and drive to be the best is what’s given her that success.”

Marlatt’s work ethic is second to none, Peppin noted. She never saw Jayden give less than a “1,000” percent in practice or games in her career. 

Marlatt celebrates a trophy win during last season’s Semifinals softball run with parents (and coaches) Kim and Ryan Marlatt.“She’s a super hard worker and extremely modest for the kind of skill she possesses and the success she’s had,” Peppin said. “Her teammates think it’s amazing to be on her team.”

Marlatt’s volleyball skills caught the eye of at least one of her conference opponents’ coaches back in junior high. Ron Stremlow was performing one of his many coaching duties for Fife Lake Forest Area when he first saw Jayden on the volleyball court.

“I could tell then this girl was somebody special,” said Stremlow, who became one of the winningest coaches in state volleyball history with the Warriors. “When she got in high school, it just took off.

“She puts the time into it, and she works hard,” Stremlow continued. “Kids like that get what they deserve – they work for it.”

Stremlow, now retired, also acknowledged he’s enjoyed being able to watch the hard-throwing Marlatt on the softball field the last couple of seasons as Forest Area hosted the Cardinals consecutively due to JoBurg’s lack of a home field.

It’s something he’ll have to travel to do this year though, as JoBurg is scheduled to host the Warriors on April 15.

The Cardinals also will host a Regional on their new field June 8. The winners of District play at Rogers City, Harbor Springs, St. Ignace and Gaylord St. Mary will participate.

To play in the Regional, the Cards will have to emerge from the Rogers City District featuring the host Hurons, Atlanta, Hillman, Onaway, and Posen.

Tom SpencerTom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Johannesburg-Lewiston’s Jayden Marlatt drives a pitch during softball season. (2) Cardinals’ 1,000-point scorer Marlatt sets up for a free throw attempt. (3) Also a standout in the fall, Marlatt prepares to connect during volleyball season. (4) Marlatt celebrates a trophy win during last season’s Semifinals softball run with parents (and coaches) Kim and Ryan Marlatt. (Action shots by Dylan Jespersen/Petoskey News-Review; family photo by Breya Domke.)