Deja Church scores 20, leads Southfield A&T past A.A. Huron, 52-38, in Class A semifinal
Southfield – Individual accomplishments aside, Deja Church has her mind set on winning a state title.
Church finished third in the voting for the Miss Basketball award on Monday but she hopes to share a bigger prize later this week.
Church played like a Miss Basketball candidate on Tuesday as she led Southfield for the Arts and Technology to a 52-38 victory over Ann Arbor Huron in a Class A quarterfinal at Southfield A&T.
Southfield A&T (22-4) will play the East Kentwood (25-1) in Friday’s second semifinal at the Breslin Center at 2:50 p.m.
East Kentwood defeated Kalamazoo Central, 78-51. Should East Kentwood defeat Southfield A&T it would be the first finals appearance for the Falcons.
Church led all scorers with 20 points scoring was just one facet of her game that proved so significant in such an important game.
Let’s go back to last season when Church and Southfield-Lathrup to lost Detroit King in a regional final. That one hurt for more than one reason. King went on to play in the state final and it was the last season for Southfield-Lathrup as the school merged with Southfield High for form Southfield A&T.
It took time for the players from the two schools to play as one. Coaches who have been through this situation will tell you it is not an easy process. Of the three captains two previously played for Southfield High, senior Tyler Washington and junior D’Layna Holliman. Church is the other. Coach Michele Marshall, who was instrumental in making Southfield-Lathrup a state power, relied on these three above the rest to create cohesiveness and harmony.
In Tuesday’s game the Warriors played as a team and, despite their lack of size, played a physical style that took Huron off of its game at times.
“I take pride in playing physical,” said Church, a 5-9 guard. “There is motivation after last season. It’s my senior year. It’s my last year. I’m going to try and win it all. Expectations were down a little (after last season), a new school and all. I’m excited to get to the Breslin Center.”
The game was tied at 13-13 early in the second quarter when the Warriors went on an 8-0 run. Church had a 3-pointer and a free throw, and Cheyenne McEvans had two free throws to end it.
Southfield A&T led 23-18 at halftime and maintained that cushion (33-28) entering the fourth.
Church scored two baskets to open the fourth and an Alexis Johnson basket gave the Warriors their largest lead to that point, 39-30, with 4:26 left.
Huron (20-6) never got closer than six points thereafter.
That’s not to infer the River Rats didn’t have their chances. They were just 6-of-11 from the free throw line in the fourth quarter. Southfield A&T led 41-35 but then missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 2:40 left. Church got the rebound, her seventh, and 25 seconds later Johnson made a free throw for a 42-35 lead.
With 1:42 remaining Washington made the first free throw for a 43-36 lead then missed the second. Again, Church got the rebound and nine seconds later Holliman made a free throw to give the Warriors a 44-36 lead.
Those plays finished off Huron.
“(Church) plays with poise,” Marshall said. “She’s very focused. She wants to win a state title.”
Church had eight rebounds, Johnson had six and Holliman five to lead Southfield A&T. The Warriors held a 33-32 edge in rebounds despite not having a player over 5-10 in the starting lineup.
“We knew rebounding was going to get us over the top,” Church said.
Emily Marsh and Shamim Wambree each had eight rebounds for Huron. Marsh’s 15 points led the River Rats.
Huron coach said her team played timid at times. She also said the game was allowed to become too physical.
“We weren’t aggressive,” Huron coach Lindsey Klemmer said. “They came out more aggressive.
“That’s a dirty team. They were throwing elbows. But we had to tighten up mentally. We couldn’t score. It doesn’t matter how well you play defense if you don’t score.”
Marshall defended her team by saying that because they lack height that they have to play physical.
“We’re a small team,” she said. “We have to block out to get rebounds.”
The last time a Southfield public school reached a semifinal was in 2005 when Southfield-Lathrup won the Class A title, the school’s only title.
“I can’t even express how this feels,” Marshall said. “We merged schools. I had to lean on my captains, Tyler, Deja and D’Layna to be our leaders. They were the ones who kept the team together.”