No. 2 Wayne Memorial outruns No. 8 Brighton to repeat as KLAA champions
BRIGHTON — It’s all in the eyes.
When teams like the two matched up in Tuesday’s Kensington Lakes Activities Association championship game press the accelerator on the pace of play, they generally see one of two things in the eyes of their opponents: Desperation or acceptance of the challenge.
With a few notable exceptions, No. 2-ranked Wayne Memorial is used to seeing a lot of the former look in opponents’ eyes, but No. 8 Brighton met their stare early on, using their own pressure and pace to put the defending KLAA champs in a 13-3 hole before the game was three minutes old.
The Zebras’ reaction? Game on.
Loving the fact that someone wanted to play up-tempo with them, the Zebras (18-2, 14-0 KLAA East) got it even by halftime, then burst out of the locker room with an early third-quarter spurt that put them up for good, as they held off the Bulldogs (18-2, 13-1 KLAA West) for their second straight Association crown, and third in four years.
“It’s always good to come out and win a championship. The team works so hard this summer, and over the season, so coming out and proving, and defending the title, it’s just amazing to us,” said Jeanae Terry, noting that the cross-over wins against the top two in the West Division — Brighton and Hartland — is going to make the Zebras better in the tournament.
“Playing against them, two incredible teams — two very different teams, actually — it makes us play defense a lot faster. And then they have two bigs that are amazing, so helping denying on them is really going to prepare us for the future.”
One of those bigs, Sophie Dziekan, scored six of her team-high 20 points in that initial spurt that put the Bulldogs up early.
But Terry and Sammiyah Hoskin — who had a game-high 21 — led the Zebras right back, scoring the final eight points of the first quarter to get back within two points.
Even better, the pace was exactly what they wanted.
“Yeah. I love playing fast speed. We work on it every day. Just woking on getting the ball up court real fast. That’s pretty much how we play. We just love to do that,” Terry said. “When we got down in the beginning, we still had our mind set on the fact that we’re still going to win the game, because when we play fast, we get the other team to turn over the ball, and when we get the ball, we just push it up the floor. We weren’t too worried about being down early, but we pretty much knew that we had to pull it together, and push it.”
They also knew that Brighton’s hot shooting early probably wasn’t going to last. Martha Pietila hit a 3-pointer in the early run, then Elaine Halonen hit two 3s after the Zebras tied it up at 13-13, allowing the Bulldogs to stretch the lead back to six.
“We weren’t playing our type of basketball. We caved in to the environment. We hadn’t been here before. A lot of things went into that 13-3 lead — and let’s just be honest: They made shots. We were there, we covered them as much as we could, we went over the scouting report as much as we could, but when emotions are running high, you can throw all those scouting reports out the window, with kids,” Wayne coach Jarvis Mitchell said, agreeing that the pace was in Wayne’s favor. “Absolutely. That’s our game plan against any team. We want to make people play an accustomed pace that we’re used to. We feel like if we can get the game in the 60s or 70s, then we feel a lot more comfortable. Most high school teams, they’re dangling around 40 or 50, but that pace, we’re conditioned for. Even if our shots aren’t falling, that pace is what we’re conditioned for, and if our shots aren’t falling, we don’t expect their shots to keep falling, playing that kind of pace.”
Wayne went into the half with a 32-30 lead, and then scored the first seven points — and 10 of the first 11 — in the second half, to stretch out to a double-digit lead.
“We just didn’t make shots tonight, and against a good team, you just gotta make shots. Especially in the second half. We were getting the looks, the shots we wanted, they just weren’t falling. They’re such a good team, you’re not going to keep them down. We wanted to keep them in the low 50s. We didn’t get that done. But we gotta make shots. I think if we make a reasonable number of free throws, and a reasonable number of layups, we keep it even tighter,” Brighton coach Paul Ash said.
“We’d get it down to six, even to five at one point, but then they’d go down and score and it’d be back to nine or 10. We’ve just got to be better finishing at the rim, and their length — you’ve gotta give them a lot of credit; they’ve got a lot of athletes with length, and they’re going to affect your shooting a little bit.”
And Mitchell wanted to credit the toughness of the Bulldogs, never letting up until the final buzzer.
“Brighton’s tough. Lord have mercy, they’re tough. The worst thing about tape is, you can’t prepare for toughness. I don’t care how much you watch, you can see they’re moving fast, but not only do they move fast, those girls are tough, man. So we knew coming in it was going to be a real tough basketball game,” Mitchell said. “We were trying to prepare for the environment, not so much the X’s and O’s. Now you’re dealing with kids’ emotions. Once you get control over the emotions, now you’ve got a better chance of winning a basketball game. You might not win, but it gives you a better chance.
“We got emotional at the end, and that’s why we got the technical fouls. It almost slipped away, because I’ve seen games go the opposite direction when two technicals are involved. So thank God was on our side, and we were able to prevail through it. My stomach was in a couple of knots, boy.”
Brighton managed to frustrate Wayne into two second-half technical fouls, and kept hanging around, but just couldn’t string together enough made shots to make it truly a nailbiter.
“That’s a fast team, man. Dude. Dude. They just don’t go away. They’re like roaches, or something. You’re just like, ‘Dang, I stomped on you,’ and just when think you got away, another one pops up. Raid ain’t gonna work,” Mitchell joked. “They’re coming at you. There is no fear in those kids. But I knew that coming in. I knew they weren’t going to be afraid. They came to play, too.”