After midseason turnaround, two-time defending champion Cranes are back in regional finals
PONTIAC — If you were a fly on the wall of the vehicles carrying Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook-Kingswood back from the West side of the state after the East/West Play-Day on April 20, you probably were wondering what was wrong with the two-time defending Division 2 champions.
It certainly wouldn’t have looked like the team that has now won eight of its last 11, including Wednesday’s 22-9 regional semifinal win over Bloomfield Hills Academy of the Sacred Heart, putting the No. 6-ranked Cranes into the regional finals.
Cranbrook (11-9-1) will take on Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett in the regional championship game at Pontiac Notre Dame Prep at noon Saturday.
That’s a long way from where Cranbrook was on the morning of April 21.
At that point, the Cranes — who’d won at an 81 percent clip over the last four seasons, going 75-17-1, and appearing in the D2 finals each of those years — had lost four straight and six of seven games, getting outscored 92-47 in the span.
Granted, that stretch included six teams that wound up ranked in the top five in D1 or D2 in the final poll — Detroit Country Day (D2 No. 3), Birmingham Marian (D2 No. 2), Brighton (D1 No. 4), Okemos (D2 No. 4), East Grand Rapids (D2 No. 1) and Grand Rapids Forest Hills United (D1 No. 2) — but still unfamiliar territory for the Cranes, who entered the postseason at 8-8-1.
“Schedule is a huge part of it. We lost a ton of seniors last year, many of whom went on to play in college. We have a lot of strong younger players, and you have to develop those connections and that bond. It took us a little while to find each other, and figure out how each other plays, so that turnaround midseason was kind of a culmination of them learning to play together again,” said Cranbrook assistant coach Kristen Ruud, who was filling in for head coach Evan Foulsham on Wednesday.
“After our trip out west to the East/West Play-Day, we played really tough competition, but we learned so much from it. And so coming off of that weekend, they were really sort of able to put that into action. So some of the mistakes that were made, and a lot of the lessons that they learned watching those tougher teams has really paid off big.”
The Cranes did graduate a ton of talent from last year’s squad, in the form of eight seniors, including the state’s all-time leading scorer, three-time all-stater Isabelle Scane (461).
This year’s team has five seniors, but also has five sophomores and five freshmen on the roster.
One of those sophomores, Mallory Brophy, led the Cranes in scoring Wednesday with five goals, while seniors Jess Geiger — the first-team all-stater and captain — and Lilly Ghesquiere had four goals each, and senior co-captain Grace Coleman had three.
Cranbrook held a one-goal lead a little less than six minutes into the first half, but scored seven straight goals over the next 10 minutes to blow the game open, leading 10-2. The two teams traded a pair of goals each over the next three minutes, then Cranbrook scored four straight before the half to lead 16-4 at the break, and start the running clock.
Many of the goals were a result of cleanly winning draws, and turning the possession into instant offense.
“Games are won in draws, and draw control, and being able to hold onto the ball. Our girls really shined in unselfish play. A lot of assisted goals,” Ruud said. “Just aiming to work together, and just aiming to work on that strong connection that they’ve gained throughout the season. That was sort of our focus, and we were able to go after it. We were real happy about that.”
After Cranbrook freshman Riya Batra scored 16 seconds into the second half, Sacred Heart scored four of the next five goals to cut it back to a 10-goal deficit, 18-8, with 11:55 left, but got no closer, and Cranbrook scored four of the five goals after that point.
Senior Victoria Pilut led ASH with four goals.
— First half —
CK — Mallory Brophy, 24:40 (1-0 CK)
CK — Jess Geiger, 23:57 (2-0 CK)
ASH — Victoria Pilut, 23:26 (2-1 CK)
CK — Lilly Ghesquiere, 20:25 (3-1 CK)
ASH — [No. 12], 19:17 (3-2 CK)
CK — Brophy, 18:13 (4-2 CK)
CK — Ghesquiere, 17:40 (5-2 CK)
CK — Geiger, 16:00 (6-2 CK)
CK — Grace Coleman, 12:44 (7-2 CK)
CK — Emily Langdon, 12:04 (8-2 CK)
CK — Brophy, 9:08 (9-2 CK)
CK — Olivia DeMuth, 8:58 (10-2 CK)
ASH — Pilut, 7:50 (10-3 CK)
CK — Lilli Sherman, 7:31 (11-3 CK)
CK — Ghesquiere, 7:19 (12-3 CK)
ASH — Mary Grace Lehmkuhl, 5:39 (12-4 CK)
CK — Brophy, 4:54 (13-4 CK)
CK — Geiger, 4:21 (14-4 CK)
CK — Charlotte DeSantos, 1:54 (15-4 CK)
CK — DeMuth, 0:50.1 (16-4 CK)
— Second half —
CK — Riya Batra, 24:44 (17-4 CK)
ASH — Alexandra Knight, 22:00 (17-5 CK)
CK — Coleman, 18:59 (18-5 CK)
ASH — Pilut, 16:47 (18-6 CK)
ASH — [No. 12], 15:25 (18-7 CK)
ASH — [No. 12], 11:55 (18-8 CK)
CK — Coleman, 10:53 (19-8 CK)
CK — Ghesquiere, 5:30 (20-8 CK)
ASH — Pilut, 4:08 (20-9 CK)
CK — Geiger, 2:57 (21-9 CK)
CK — Brophy, 0:30 (22-9 CK)
ASH — Victoria Pilut, 4; CK — Mallory Brophy, 5; Jess Geiger, 4; Lilly Ghesquiere, 4; Grace Coleman, 3