In Play with Tom Markowski

DeWitt's experience and senior leadership have the Panthers in the Class A state final after defeating Heritage, 44-36

Basketball   | Tom Markowski

DeWitt's experience and senior leadership have the Panthers in the Class A state final after defeating Heritage, 44-36

East Lansing – DeWitt senior Claudia Reid scored five points during a 10-1 run to end the third quarter and the Panthers used that momentum to carry them to the school’s first Class A final.

Reid led a balanced scoring attack with 11 points and DeWitt defeated Saginaw Heritage 44-36 in a Class A semifinal on Friday at the Breslin Center.

DeWitt (25-1), ranked No. 7, will play top-ranked and defending champion Birmingham Marian (25-1) for the title on Saturday at noon. Marian defeated Detroit King 57-37 in the other semifinal.

DeWitt won the Class C title in 1977.

“Every season we’re unhappy with the way we finished,” Reid said. “And every year we knew we had to do something to improve.”

DeWitt led 12-6 at the end of the first quarter and 18-14 at halftime.

The Panthers started the second half in a funk offensively and Heritage took advantage. Sophomore Haley Brefka made a free throw and a basket to give the Hawks their first lead, 19-18, with 4:51 left in third.

The teams each made a free throw before Reid made two to give DeWitt the lead for good at 21-20 with three minutes left.

“We knew there were going to be some droughts,” DeWitt coach Bill McCullen said. “They like playing in the 30s and we didn’t want to get into that type of game. We started with some full court pressure and we got a basket.”

DeWitt opened a 34-25 lead with 2:41 left on two free throws by Cayce Palmer and it looked like Heritage would succumb but the Hawks went on a 6-2 run capped by freshman Jessi Bicknell’s 3-point play with 1:12 left to pull Heritage to within 36-31.

But that’s as close as the Hawks would get.

Allie Miller led unranked Heritage (22-4) with 14 points. Bicknell and Courtney McInerney each had six.

 It was a physical game as both teams had two players foul out.

DeWitt gained a significant edge at the free throw line as the Panthers made 20-of-25 (80 percent) to 4-11 (36.4 percent) for Heritage.

 “You can’t have mental breakdowns,” Heritage coach Vonnie DeLong said. “On offense we had three-to-four minutes where we didn’t score and you can’t do that at this level.”

Abby Nakfoor and Lilly George each added eight points for DeWitt. George led all players with six rebounds.

DeWitt started four seniors, including Nakfoor and George, and McMullen said that’s been a key all season.

“We try to use that to our advantage,” he said.