In Play with Tom Markowski

Country Day reaches 16th state final, defeats Marshall, 46-42, in a Class B semifinal

Basketball   | Tom Markowski

Country Day reaches 16th state final, defeats Marshall, 46-42, in a Class B semifinal

East Lansing – Longtime coach Frank Orlando said before Friday’s Class B semifinal, “one more game. I just want one more game.”

You got it, Frank.

Kaela Webb’s four points in the final 1:23 and Tylar Bennett’s block with 30 seconds left enabled Detroit Country Day to slip past defending champion Marshall, 46-42, at the Breslin Center.

Country Day (25-1), ranked No. 2, will play top-ranked Ypsilanti Arbor Prep (27-0) for the title on Saturday at 6 p.m. Arbor Prep defeated Freeland 54-36 in the other semifinal.

This is Orlando’s 50th season as a head coach, the last 36 at Country Day. This was his 20th semifinal at the school. Country Day will play in its 16th state final under Orlando. The program has 11 state titles.

Orlando, 74, announced recently that this would be his final season. His one wish on Friday was to have the opportunity to coach in one more final.

“It’s going to be hard for me to manage my emotions,” he said. “You rely on your past experiences.”

Experience played a big role in this game. Marshall had four seniors in its starting lineup and Country Day had players, like Miss Basketball candidate Destiny Pitts, who had played a key part in the Country Day’s state championship in 2015 and its semifinal appearance last season.

“We came up short last year,” Webb, a junior, said. “We lost one and we won one. We didn’t like losing that one. We knew our defense had to be tough today.”  

The lead seesawed back and forth in the first half as there were nine lead changes, the last one came on Pitts’ 3-pointer at the buzzer that gave Country Day a 27-25 lead.

The largest lead of the half was six points (25-19) and that belonged to Marshall.

Country Day’s defense tightened up after that as the Yellowjackets held Marshall scoreless over the final 4:24.

That type of defense carried over into the second half for both teams. Each team had 13 possessions in the third quarter, Marshall managed five points and Country Day had six that gave the Yellowjackets a 33-30 lead.

“We really played well defensively since the first quarter,” Pitts said. “In our time outs we stressed playing defense. We were in a different defense. We gave them a different look.”

Orlando called the defense, ‘black’, but he nor his players would explain what comprised that defensive look.

Country Day led throughout the second half until Carlee Long’s 3-pointer gave Marshall a 38-37 lead with 4:43 remaining. Pitts’ 3-point play gave the Yellowjackets a 40-38 lead a minute later and Nikki Tucker tied the game at 40-40 on a nifty interior pass from her sister Natalie Tucker with 3:16 left.

Jill Konkle’s 8-foot runner in the lane gave the Redhawks their last lead, and last points, 42-40 with 1:48 remaining.

Webb’s basket tied it with 1:23 left and her two free throws with 47.1 seconds left gave Country Day a 44-42 lead.

On the next possession Bennett, a 6-3 center who signed with Clemson, blocked a Nikki Tucker shot and Pitts, who signed with Minnesota, made two free throws with 13.3 seconds left to secure the victory.

“As seniors, we want to do this,” Pitts said. “The 50 (years) is a so important to us. It’s important ot the school. They all believe in us.”

Pitts led Country Day with 13 points and five assists, Bennett had 10 points, six rebounds and three blocks, and Webb had eight points and nine rebounds.

For Marshall (23-3), Nikki Tucker and Konkle each had 13 points, and Natalie Tucker had nine points and 10 rebounds.

“We’re disappointed but we’re not crying because we lost the game,” coach and Jill Konkle’s mother, Sal Konkle, said. “The tears are because…I’m going to miss them.

“We don’t surprise us. We knew we’d compete. We thought we would win.”