Haslett holds on vs. surging Chelsea in quarterfinal win, returns to semis for first time since 2015
FOWLERVILLE — Every time Haslett coach Ross Baker looked at the clock, it seemed like it had not changed, no time had elapsed since his last glance.
“That clock could not run fast enough,” he said. “I needed it to run really fast.”
With Chelsea erasing all but two points of a double-digit Vikings lead in the fourth quarter of Tuesday’s Division 2 quarterfinal, and holding all the momentum, the clock couldn’t tick down to triple zeroes fast enough to suit any of the Vikings.
With 5.5 seconds left, the Bulldogs got one last crack at tying it up, and got the ball over midcourt, but turned it over along the sidelines, and didn’t get a shot off, as Haslett survived and moved on with a 46-44 win.
“It’s really amazing. It’s a great feeling. Me and my juniors and seniors and everybody on the team, we’ve been talking about this moment, since Day One in practice. Day One. And now we’ve reached our goal,” junior Imania Baker said. “We have another goal to beat, and we know it’s not going to be easy, but we’re going to push through it.”
The Vikings (19-6) will meet two-time reigning Class C champion Detroit Edison (25-1) in the last semifinal of the Friday evening, at 7:30 p.m. at Calvin College’s Van Noord Arena. It certainly won’t be the first time the Vikings — who came into the postseason 13-6 — will be viewed as an underdog, just like they were against both Williamston in the district final and Jackson Northwest in the regional title game.
“I know our team has been the underdog all throughout the postseason, and we just saw it as an opportunity to prove teams wrong, and get some revenge on some teams that we lost to in the regular season,” senior Ella McKinney said. “It’s just been a blast ever since, and I’m just proud of this team and what we’ve accomplished so far.”
The 2015 runner-up in Class B, Haslett hadn’t been beyond the district semifinals in the intervening three seasons, losing once (2016) in the Class A district first round to East Lansing, and the last two seasons in the Class B district semifinals to Williamston.
For Ross Baker, who was diagnosed with cancer in mid-January of 2018 and took a leave from the team, it’s just an extension of the time he’ll get to spend with his players.
“I don’t think it’s hit me just yet. The big thing I was thinking about, coming into tonight was, I want to keep coaching this team at least two more practices, and at least one more game, and the only way we do that is we gotta win tonight,” the coach said. “I just tried to think about it that way. It hasn’t sunk in yet that we’re going to the final four.”
It was a close call, though.
The Vikings led by as much as 13 points early in the fourth, but scored just seven points in the final period, as Chelsea (24-2) ripped off an 11-0 run to cut it to just two points, 42-41, with 1:13 left, on a 3-pointer by Riley Davis.
Ross Baker didn’t want his team to go into a stall with the lead, but the Bulldogs were dictating the tempo.
“Not at all. We just want to play. We talked about getting really good shots,” the coach said. “I thought up until that point, we played really good offense, and I thought we were flowing really well, and then I felt like Chelsea just kind of extended their pressure and clamped down on us.”
The Bulldogs got a chance to tie the game at 44-44, after a steal by Abigale Fullerton, but turned it over on the other end.
It’s kind of our M.O. We don’t have any quit in us. Made a nice run to tighten it up a little bit, had an opportunity to tie it. Didn’t go our way. If we could’ve had a couple of those free throws back, I think that probably would’ve been a little different game, but ‘ifs and buts’ are what they are,” Chelsea coach Todd Blomquist said, admitting they couldn’t quite get over that final hump. “That one play. But give them credit: Every time we did make a run, it seemed like they made one big play, to kind of stop the run a little bit.”
McKinney went to the line with 16.5 seconds left, and hit both ends of a one-and-one to make it 46-42, but Madeline Vasquez hit a layup with 6.4 seconds left to cut it back to two again, 46-44, and the Bulldogs fouled McKinney again with 5.5 seconds left. She missed, giving the ball back to Chelsea, but the Bulldogs didn’t get off a shot to tie or win it before time expired.
“You know, I just saw it as an opportunity to keep our season going, just push through to the end,” McKinney said.
Davis had 20 points to lead Chelsea, while Fullerton had 11. Imania Baker led Haslett with 16 points, while Olivia Green and McKinney had 10 each.
The Vikings are just now getting healthy, and getting all their pieces back in the postseason.
Sophomore Skyla Nosek, who missed 11 games with a head injury, has been one of the Vikings’ leading scorers in the postseason. She returned during districts.
Imania Baker missed the first four games of the season — the Vikings went 1-3 in those games — returning from the second ACL surgery of her career. The 6-foot-3 junior tore her left ACL in eighth grade and her right one at the end of her sophomore season.
That’s why she was in tears when she heard a pop when she landed on her kneecap in the fourth quarter, but was relieved that nothing was wrong when the trainer checked it out, allowing her to re-enter the game in crunch time.
“My kneecap hit it, and I heard a pop, and I thought I tore my ACL again, and I was just like ‘Oh …’ That’s why I was crying,” Baker said. “I was in pain, but I needed to be there for my team, so I just went out and did it.”
She remembers exactly how her coach felt looking at the clock, when she was staring at the calendar, waiting for her chance to return.
“Yes. It’s a long way to play. It was second time tearing it, so they wanted to be extra careful. So it was a long time waiting to play. I had my downfalls, coming back in, because I didn’t know what I could do. I was personally scared of re-injuring it,” she said. “It’s a long waiting game.”
The Vikings had to re-adjust to their big post when she came back, but she made it as easy as possible on her teammates.
“She’s a such a team player, when she was out we had to play a different style, and instead of us kind of re-integrating her style back in, she just kind of played with our style, and then we could kind of build on what she does the best. She’s just an incredible teammate. And I think her being out helped, in that it helped a couple of other girls step up and see what their role was going to be,” Baker said. “She’s big offensively for us, because she’s someone they really have to game-plan for in the post, and kind of opens everything else up for us on the perimeter, and she’s great on the glass, and gets us second and third opportunities. And then defensively, she’s just a great rebounder, but probably what she does better than anything is she communicates. She gets everybody talking, and when we talk defensively, we’re pretty good.”
It was the end of an historic run for the Bulldogs, who won their first regional title, riding a huge senior class.
“We were 17-5 last year, and lost in a district final that we felt we shouldn’t have lost, and my three senior captains came to me the next week, and said ‘This is what we’re going to do.’ They set out a road map for what we wanted to do, and I’ll be damned if we didn’t hit just about every goal. We wanted to win our first regional, which we did, so at this point, it was just frosting. But once we got into this game, we wanted to take this one, too. It’s tough always to end any season, but especially when you have nine seniors. Nobody has nine seniors,” Blomquist said, admitting that it will be a season to remember, once the sting of Tuesday’s loss fades.
“It’s gonna be real special. We have a big board in the gym, every sport does, and we get to put some numbers on that board in spots that there haven’t been before. Every time they walk into our gym, they’re going to see that number. It’s pretty special.”
By contrast, the Vikings have three seniors, but the rest of the team are juniors, so they’ll have another run at it next year, more than likely. But they want to do it now, anyway.
“I want to do it now, because a lot of people underrated us, a lot of people doubt us,” Imania Baker said. We’re out here proving you shouldn’t doubt us. We’re going to put up a fight. We’re not going to go anywhere. We’re here and we’re here to stay.”