King’s 3-point shooting has the Lady Crusaders in final
East Lansing – St. Johns defeated some of the state’s top teams to reach its first state semifinal since 1997. The Redwings, unranked all season, knocked off top-ranked and tournament favorite Saginaw Heritage in a region final and defeated No. 7-ranked Flushing in a district final but they never faced a team that began a game as quickly as Detroit King.
King made its first three 3-point attempts and had six in the first nine minutes. Add King’s tenacious defensive style of play and the combination was too much for the Redwings.
Mecaela Kelly made King’s first two 3-pointers and scored 18 points to lead the Lady Crusaders to a 56-48 victory over St. Johns in a Class A semifinal at the Breslin Center on Friday.
King (24-1) will play Warren Cousino (22-4) for the title on Saturday at noon. Cousino defeated Hudsonville, 60-45, in the second semifinal.
It will be King’s 12th state-final appearance, a Class A record. The Lady Crusaders have won five titles.
“I wanted to get off fast,” Kelly said. “I hadn’t seen this team play so we wanted to get the lead early.”
Tia Tedford made King’s third 3-pointer and King led 9-3. King led 24-17 at halftime and 37-28 after three quarters. The Lady Crusaders never trailed.
“It always helps,” longtime King coach William Winfield said of his team’s 3-pointers. “We rely on Kelly and Tedford to hit our 3-pointers. We were off and running.
“If you’re a 3-point shooting team you have your highs and lows. We did an excellent job of doing our select 3-point shooting.
“And they played with poise. We did get a little sloppy at the end. That was my fault.”
Winfield instructed his players to slow the tempo down in the final few minutes and their execution wasn’t spot on.
The Lady Crusaders’ solid shooting more than made up for a few ball-handling miscues. King shot considerably better from the 3-point range (9-of-18, 50 percent) than it did from inside the arc (7-19, 36.7).
King also had the edge from the free throw line as it made 15-of-22 (68.2) to St. Johns’ 9-13 (69.2).
Erica Whitely-Jackson opened the fourth quarter with a 3-pointer to give King its largest lead to that point, 40-27. Alicia Norman made King’s final three to push King’s lead to 47-33 with 5:31 remaining.
St. Johns kept its poise a gradually brought the deficit into single digits. Jamie Carroll’s two free throws brought the Redwings to within 52-43 with 1:25 left and two more by Olivia Maurer with 30 seconds left made it a two-possession game (54-48).
Maddie Maloney scored 12 points to lead St. Johns. Carroll and Erika Ballinger added eight points apiece.
St. Johns shot 37 percent (17-46) from the field and just 26.3 percent (5-19) from beyond the arc. The Redwings struggled to get open shots as King’s pressure often removed them from their comfort level.
“They were shooting tremendously well,” Maloney said. “They put up some good shots. We had to have a change of game plan. We got out higher on them. We’ve played teams who shot well but they did shoot it well.”
The return of junior point guard Alicia Norman was a shot in the arm for King. Norman has been hampered by a sore (left) ankle and played just two minutes in King’s quarterfinal victory over Ann Arbor Huron. Norman played 24 minutes on Friday and had 14 points, one turnover, and made all three of her 3-point attempts.
“I’m just excited I’m running faster (today),” Norman said.
Erica Whitely-Jackson added 10 points for King.