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Alize Tripp scores 10 points in a two-minute span of the fourth, leading Michigan Center to 42-41 win over Grass Lake

By: MATTHEW B. MOWERY, March 4, 2020, 11:13 pm

GRASS LAKE — Alize Tripp was NOT going to go out that way.

If the Concordia-bound senior was going to have her Michigan Center career end, she certainly didn’t want it to happen in districts.

And there was no way she wanted it to happen against arch rival Grass Lake. 

The elder Tripp sister scored 10 straight points in a two-minute span in the fourth quarter of Wednesday’s Division 3 district semifinal, as Michigan Center clawed back from nine points down in the final period to beat Grass Lake, 42-41.

“No, I was not going to let my senior year end that way, and especially losing to our rival. That just motivated me. I was not going to go out like that. So I just put everything I had in me, and just let it all go out on the floor,” Alize Tripp said.

“This is very huge, because Grass Lake is a very good team, so beating them literally means everything to us, especially because we have four seniors on our team that have been playing against them for four years. We weren’t going to lose to them. We just wanted to beat them so bad.”

The Cardinals (18-3) move on to Friday’s district championship game, facing a Brooklyn Columbia Central squad (20-2) that rolled over Vandercook Lake, 72-20, in Wednesday’s first game. 

“We are very motivated. We’ve heard so many things about Columbia talking to us about them beating us — we’re not going to lose this district,” Alize Tripp said. “This is our game. Our time to play, and we’re not going to give up until the end.”

The Golden Eagles were the No. 1 seed in the district, thanks to the MPR formula, even though both Michigan Center and Grass Lake (18-3) were more highly ranked, so there shouldn’t be any issue with the Cardinals having a letdown.

“My buddy and I were just talking about that. The hardest one is always the one after an emotional win like this. I think they’re up for it, because they know a lot of them girls, too. So I think they’ll come through it,” Michigan Center coach Joe Lusk said, admitting that the new postseason format didn’t prevent the two D3 contenders from running into each other early, as they have so often in recent years.  

“Then they did the seeding, and we got the same thing. Random draw would’ve been better, maybe, huh? My wife was talking about it, and kind of complaining about it. And I think (Grass Lake coach Andrea Cabana) was like, ‘Nah, let’s play them right out of the gate.’ That’s OK with me.”

It has been a war between the two teams, every time they meet, anymore.

The Warriors won the first meeting, 51-46, then Cardinals won the rematch on the road, 65-55, before winning Wednesday’s rubber game. 

The same thing happened a year ago, when the two teams held serve on their home floor, then the Cardinals won, 49-44 in an overtime thriller in the district championship game. 

The year before that, when Michigan Center was up in Class B, and Grass Lake in Class C, the Cardinals ran all the way to the semifinals. 

“After I won tonight, I had my spiel about how last year we beat them two out of three, and now we beat them two out of three this year. And everybody else always seems to be the team. I’m not sure how that works out,” Lusk said. “That’s OK, because when nobody knew about us, we went to the semifinals. That’s fine. Ignore me. I don’t care.”

For Grass Lake, it doesn’t really matter that the end of their season came in districts, knowing that no matter when it came, it was short of their aspirations.

“I’ve said right along, at the end of the day, you’ve gotta win everything. So when you take your losses is irrelevant,” Andrea Cabana said. “Michigan Center’s a great team, and it’s always a battle when we fight. They outplayed us in the last part of this game again.”

With just over 3:30 to go, the Warriors held a 41-32 lead, but they couldn’t hold it — largely thanks to the outburst by Alize Tripp. 

While her younger sister, Shea, had carried the offense to that point — scoring 12 points through three quarters, then getting a pair of three-point opportunities early in the fourth, it was the senior who took over at the end. 

Alize Tripp hit a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to six, then less than 15 seconds later, swiped the ball and took it the other way for a layup to cut the deficit to four, 41-37.

“I think they were face-guarding her pretty good, and she was frustrated a little bit. Once she got space, you see what she did,” Lusk said. “She turned it on.” 

Her drive to the bucket with 2:30 left cut the deficit to two, then with 1:32 to go, she nailed the game-winning bucket from the wing, a 3-pointer right in front of the Grass Lake student section, but it didn’t even faze her a bit. 

“I just completely ignore everything, and get in my zone,” Alize Tripp said. 

Weirdly enough, neither team scored in the final 92 seconds, even though both had chances. 

Grass Lake had four offensive possessions in that span — thanks to the Warriors forcing a couple of jump balls — but came up empty on all of them, including the last one in the final 11 seconds, after Michigan Center missed on the front end of a one-and-one.

“It makes it a little bit more painful, for sure. We had ample opportunity at the end. At the end of the day, we shouldn’t have been in that boat,” Andrea Cabana said. “We were up by nine, and we should’ve taken care of business.”

The whole time, the Cardinals were forced to play defense without fouling — since they were already in the double bonus — and had two starters with four fouls each.

“And I had no timeouts. Like I told the girls, if we could make a shot, we might actually be good. We were cold. Missing bunnies and free throws. Normally, Teagan (Haynes) is money at free throws, but we did get that ball, then coughed it up. Got it in here and coughed it up,” Lusk said. “Yeah, it was tough. They hung, though. They never gave up. When they came over here, it was like ‘Get ‘em.’”

The defense has been something that helped turn the tide for the Cardinals in wins over ranked teams like Williamston — which had played the Cardinals in a five overtime thriller last year — late in this regular season, and early on in the campaign against a Harper Woods Chandler Park team that had them down double digits. 

“That was a point in our season where that switch turned on, and they all came together on defense, and shut them right down on defense, because we’d acted like we didn’t even know where we were at. It was terrible,” Lusk said. “We were lucky to only be down 17 at the half.”

Michigan Center led for much of the early portions of Wednesday’s game, with a 9-6 advantage after one quarter, and a 23-21 lead at the half. But Grass Lake held the Cardinals to just three points in the third quarter, using a 7-0 run to take a 33-26 lead into the fourth, and eventually stretch it to nine points, 38-29, on Abrie Cabana’s fast-break layup with a little more than four minutes to go. They’d score just three more points the rest of the way.

Lexus Bargesser and Gabrielle Lutchka led the Warriors with 13 each, while Alize Tripp had 14 points to go with Shea Tripp’s double double of 17 points and 11 rebounds.