No. 8 Midland Dow grinds out defensive win over No. 6 Carman-Ainsworth, capturing first overall Saginaw Valley title since 2015
FLINT TWP. — It’s a pick-your-poison proposition: Do you want to get smothered quickly, or slowly?
No matter which you pick, though, it’s probably not going to go well for you.
It’s a proposition that Flint Carman-Ainsworth coach Lance Belill, like most opponents of Midland Dow this season, went over and over in his mind.
At the half of Friday’s Saginaw Valley League crossover championship game, the skipper of the South Division champion Cavaliers decided to take his best defender, senior Destiny Strother, and switch her from covering Dow’s Molly Davis to guarding Maizie Taylor.
Strother held Taylor — who was coming off a 39-point outing, and had 10 first-half points — to just one 3 the rest of the way, but Davis exploded for 17 second-half points, leading the No. 8-ranked Chargers to a 48-41 win over the No. 6 Cavaliers.
“Maiz and I have never played in an SVL crossover championship game, so this meant a lot to us. We put a lot of work in to get to this point. It’s a great feeling,” Davis said. “It’s pretty high up on the list (of goals). We’re not done yet, but an SVL championship means a lot to us.”
It’s the first overall SVL title for Dow since 2015, but they’ve been close.
“It feels good. … For us, it’s validation for all the hard work the girls put in. And the other part of it, too, is that we won this the first time they had it, four years ago. The next two times, we didn’t get to play in this game, because of tiebreakers. We were tied for the Valley North those two years, and we don’t get to play in this game, because of tiebreakers, not because of our record, or anything like that,” Dow coach Kyle Theisen said. “So we kind of get forgotten about those two seasons, as part of the elite class of the Valley, because we didn’t get to play in this game. So, for us, four of the last five seasons, we’ve either had the outright title or a share of the North title. So it’s continued validation for our program, continued validation of all the work the girls put in.”
The Chargers (17-1) had to put in a little more work on the boards after the Cavaliers (15-4) jumped out to a 15-8 lead after one quarter Friday. Ratcheting up the defense, and limiting second-chance opportunities paid a huge dividend, though, as they outscored Carman-Ainsworth 15-3 in the second quarter to lead 23-17 at the half. That margin would only get down as close as two, as Dow maintained the lead the rest of the way.
“The second quarter for us, defensively, was huge. No. 1 with making them take tough shots, but No. 2, rebounding. That was the difference in the first quarter — and we knew it was going to be the difference. We practiced it. We knew they wanted to get offensive rebounds and second-chance points. And in the first quarter, we didn’t execute our rebounding like we’d practiced. So it wasn’t necessarily that we changed anything in the second quarter. It was more just about us refocusing at the end of that quarter, and reminding everybody the importance of allowing only one shot each possession. And once we did that, they struggled to score in that second quarter. That is really is what gave us that lead,” Theisen said. “We’ve been holding teams down in the 30s all season, so that’s nothing new — it is fairly new for such a good team. Tonight, I was kind of expecting a track meet, because they want to play fast, and we want to play fast. But both teams really came out focused, playing really good defense. I was expecting 70-60, or something like that. So to see that, when we don’t shoot the ball well, we can still win a defensive battle against a really good team, that gives us a lot of confidence.”
It was a switch of defense on the other side that made a big difference, as well.
When Belill took Strother off Davis, the Dow senior was able to get past the two replacement defenders fairly easily, accounting for all 10 of the Chargers’ points in the third quarter, and seven more in the fourth.
“Chenelle (King) was having a little hard time staying in front (of Taylor). She was letting her get a full head of steam, and get to the middle, so we made that choice at halftime to put Destiny on her, and it seemed to help,” Belill said, admitting that it coincided with Davis’ explosion. “We let (Davis) get going, I feel like, in the third quarter. The first couple of possessions we didn’t play the type of defense we were playing on her the rest of the game, and a player like that, you let her fill it up a couple of times, and the next thing you know, she can’t be stopped, no matter what we do. They’re both tough.”
A very good passing and shooting team, with a number of offensive outlets other than just the big two seniors, the Chargers also have the option of just spreading the floor and letting the lightning quick Davis go to work, one-on-one. For the better part of the fourth quarter, that was the plan.
“I don’t know what else I can say about Molly. Molly’s amazing. When we struggled to score in the first quarter, we get the ball to Molly. When it’s the end of the game, and we need to make sure that we don’t turn the ball over, we get the ball to Molly. Every time we need a big bucket, we get the ball to Molly,” Theisen said. “I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, you can’t guard Molly one-on-one. There’s not a single player in the state that can, one-on-one, without help, defend Molly. It’s not going to happen. There are times where she didn’t score, like against Pewamo, where they were sagging in the lane, and sending two people at her.
“If you’re going to try to play her one-on-one, and we spread the floor, and you don’t have people stepping in to help, it’s impossible to stay in front of her. That’s what you saw in the second half. I felt like we were playing James Harden basketball there for a minute. but I have so much confidence in what she’s going to do, that I don’t mind every once in a while having those possessions where we don’t have a lot of movement, and saying ‘Molly go create.’”
She also created the biggest shot of the game, getting to the lane, drawing defensive attention and slinging the ball to Taylor in the far corner for a 3-pointer. Carman-Ainsworth had cut the lead down to just two, 38-36, at the time, but the 3 re-established a five-point cushion for the Chargers, who made 8 of 14 free throws down the stretch to close out the game.
“I’m definitely the type of player that if I make a shot, mentally, I’m going to keep looking for my next one. It kind of feeds off of it, a little streaky. So once I started making those few, I had to just keep attacking the basket, because that’s what most of our offense was in the first half, because we weren’t scoring much,” said Taylor, who hit a school-record 11 shots from 3-point range in her last contest, tied for the third-most in state history. “Second half, Strother’s a very good defender, very long, hard to get past, but other people stepped up when it mattered.”
Charis Queary (eight rebounds) and Alexis Kolnitys (six rebounds) helped limit the Cavs’ second-chance opportunities, while Jada Garner added seven points.
Strother finished with 11 points for the Cavaliers, while Aaliyah McQueen had 10.