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D2 FINALS: Detroit Edison joins elite company, winning third straight title with a 77-58 win over Freeland

D2 FINALS: Detroit Edison joins elite company, winning third straight title with a 77-58 win over Freeland
BY: MATTHEW B. MOWERY Mar 23, 9:00pm

GRAND RAPIDS — Detroit Edison is in elite company now.

The Pioneers became the sixth girls basketball program in state history to win three consecutive MHSAA championships, finishing off the three-peat with a 77-58 win over Freeland in the Division 2 title game at Calvin College’s Van Noord Arena on Saturday.

Flint Northern (1978-81), Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes (2010-12), Detroit Country Day (1997-99 and 2002-04), Portland St. Patrick (1994-96) and Leland (1980-82) were the others.

“This is a phenomenal group that I have here today,” Edison coach Monique Brown said. “I don’t even know where to start with this group, and what we’ve accomplished together as one unit.”

Edison won the last two Class C titles, then opted up a level this season, the first under the new divisional designations, to get a new challenge.

“The first one was definitely the one that was crazy for us with all the doubters that we had. We just fought through adversity. No one thought we could do it. So I would have to say that our first championship was the one that really hit me,” Edison senior Rickea Jackson said. “This championship means a lot to me, too, because there was an even bigger target on our back, and everyone knows who we are, and everybody can see our games on the internet. This was probably one of the hardest ones.”

Challenge granted — sort of. The Pioneers won their eight postseason games by an average of 45 points per game, never scoring less than 63 points in the playoffs, and giving up more than 40 just three times. The 18-point margin of victory in the championship game was their closest of the postseason.

“We were always on each others’ backs in practice. … We were blowing people out, but we did have to stay focused, so we in practice were going harder than anybody else,” junior Gabrielle Elliott said. “Our biggest competition was ourselves. We were going to so hard in practice, and that was what people didn’t see as far as why we were beating people by 50.”

The Pioneers (27-1) did not lose to a Michigan team all season — their only loss was on Dec. 15 to Ohio power Columbus Africentric Early College — beating three of the final four teams in Division 1, including champion Saginaw Heritage, and the D3 champion, Pewamo-Westphalia.

“We pay attention to the attention, but we don’t let it get to our heads,” sophomore Damiya Hagemann said. “I feel like that’s how we stayed focused throughout the entire season.”

On the other side, Freeland (24-3) only lost to one team — Saginaw Valley League champion Midland Dow — that did not win a state championship. The Falcons’ other two losses came against Heritage, and Saturday against Edison.

“They made history in Freeland. Tonight they gave it their all, and when you face a team that is doing it inside and out — usually we take advantage of one or the other. It was a tough task tonight, and a lot of credit goes to them (the Pioneers). But what a group of girls right here,” Freeland coach Tom Zolinski said, accompanied in his press conference by his five seniors — Autumn Kloha, Lily Beyer, Camryn Coonan, Alyssa Argyle and Taylor Bakos. “I had three of them for four years, one for three, and the other for two — and in four years, they’ve won 94 games and lost 11, which is incredible. Never lost a conference game. I’m definitely gonna miss them. They’ve set it up for the future. The program’s been solid, and they’ve actually made it more solid. There’s a lot of young girls that look up to these girls, and they want to be just like them.”

The Falcons hit just enough from the outside, nailing eight 3-pointers on the game, to keep themselves in it just a bit. Edison led 15-7 after one quarter, and 37-24 at the half, stretching the lead as high as 24 points midway through the third. Freeland twice cut it all the way back to 14, before the Pioneers put the game away for good.

But it could’ve been different had the Falcons hit a few more of those 3-pointers in the first half, when they were 2 for 13 from behind the arc.

“Most teams, when they talk about Freeland, they talk about the 3-point shot. They had a little length to them, and they challenged us a little bit. Makes you think a little bit. If we make a couple of them, we’re right into it, and who knows what could’ve happened?” Zolinski said.

Every run the Falcons made in the second half, though, seemed like it was thwarted by Miss Basketball, Jackson, who finished with 28 points in her final high school game.

“Amazing. She really is. We would make a little run, and then she’d come back and hit a shot — either a mid-range shot or a 3. She’s tough,” Zolinski said. “I coached Tori Jankoska (2013 Miss Basketball) for four years, and she’s up there with her. She really is.”

Gabrielle Elliott had 15 and Damiya Hagemann 13. Argyle had 18 to lead Freeland, Kadyn Blanchard had 16 and Kloha 11.

While the Falcons are losing four of their five starters to graduation, the Pioneers lose just one: Jackson.

“Bittersweet. I’m definitely, definitely miss high school, but time goes fast. And I’m going off to college,” she said. “I believe my teammates and I have left a huge legacy. They’re letting me go off to college with three championships, and can’t do anything but thank them for that.”