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Comeback kids

  • Skip Traynor - Special to the Sun Mt. Pleasant Sacred Heart Academy team and coaches celebrate winning the 2014 Class D State Championship with a 56-53 win over previously unbeaten Crystal Falls Forest Park at the Michigan State University Breslin Center Saturday, March 15, 2014.
  • Skip Traynor - Special to the Sun Mt. Pleasant Sacred Heart Academy junior Lexie Methner and Nancy English, mother of Megan English and former SHA principal, celebrate winning the 2014 Class D State Championship with a 56-53 win over previously unbeaten Crystal Falls Forest Park at the Michigan State University Breslin Center Saturday, March 15, 2014.
  • Skip Traynor - Special to the Sun Mt. Pleasant Sacred Heart Academy junior Lexie Methner grabs a rebound during the 2014 Class D State Championship at the Michigan State University Breslin Center Saturday, March 15, 2014. Methner scored all of her six points in the second half to help key a 56-53 win over previously unbeaten Crystal Falls Forest Park.
  • Skip Traynor - Special to the Sun Mt. Pleasant Sacred Heart Academy junior Riley Terwilliger fires up a shot despite being fouled on the way to winning the 2014 Class D State Championship at the Michigan State University Breslin Center Saturday, March 15, 2014. Terwilliger scored all of her 11 points in the second half to help key a 56-53 win over previously unbeaten Crystal Falls Forest Park.
  • Skip Traynor - Special to the Sun Mt. Pleasant Sacred Heart Academy sophomore Averi Gamble looks to the basket during the Irish's 2014 Class D State Championship at the Michigan State University Breslin Center Saturday, March 15, 2014. Gamble led all scorers with 25 points and pulled down 11 rebounds in a 56-53 win over previously unbeaten Crystal Falls Forest Park.
  • Skip Traynor - Special to the Sun Mt. Pleasant Sacred Heart Academy coaches Damon Brown and Kristina Lilly celebrate winning the 2014 Class D State Championship with a 56-53 win over previously unbeaten Crystal Falls Forest Park at the Michigan State University Breslin Center Saturday, March 15, 2014.
  • Skip Traynor - Special to the Sun Mt. Pleasant Sacred Heart Academy sophomore Averi Gamble goes against Miss Basketball Alexis Gussert and Mary Grandahl during the 2014 Class D State Championship at the Michigan State University Breslin Center Saturday, March 15, 2014. Gamble scored 25 points and grabbed 11 rebounds to lead the Irish to a 56-53 win over previously unbeaten Crystal Falls Forest Park.
  • Skip Traynor - Special to the Sun Mt. Pleasant Sacred Heart Academy senior Sara Hansen pressures Alexis Gussert during the 2014 Class D State Championship at the Michigan State University Breslin Center Saturday, March 15, 2014. Hansen scored 14 to help key a 56-53 win over previously unbeaten Crystal Falls Forest Park.
  • Skip Traynor - Special to the Sun Mt. Pleasant Sacred Heart Academy senior Sara Hansen dribbles past the Irish bench duringthe 2014 Class D State Championship at the Michigan State University Breslin Center Saturday, March 15, 2014. Hansen scored 14 to help key a 56-53 win over previously unbeaten Crystal Falls Forest Park.
  • Mt. Pleasant Sacred Heart Academy rallied in the fourth quarter to top Crystal Falls Forest Park. (For the Sun/JASON SCHMITT)
  • Sacred Heart's Riley Terwilliger follows through on the shot that would give her team a 52-50 lead and eventually help the Irish the Class D state championship Saturday. (For the Sun/JASON SCHMITT)
  • Sacred Heart coach Damon Jones looks on during the fourth quarter of his team's game against Crystal Falls Forest Park Saturday. (For the Sun/JASON SCHMITT)
  • Sacred Heart's Megan English puts up a shot during her team's win over Crystal Falls Forest Park Saturday. (For the Sun/JASON SCHMITT)
  • Sara Hansen drives the baseline during Sacred Heart's win over Crystal Falls Forest Park Saturday. (For the Sun/JASON SCHMITT)
  • Sacred Heart's Sara Hansen has her shot blocked by Crystal Falls Forest Park's Alexis Gussert Saturday morning. (For the Sun/JASON SCHMITT)
  • Sacred Heart's Riley Terwilliger launches a 3-pointer Saturday morning. (For the Sun/JASON SCHMITT)
  • Sacred Heart's Lexie Methner (32) celebrates as a timeout is called after teammate Riley Terwilliger hit what would be the game-winning 3-pointer against Crystal Falls Forest Park Saturday in the Class D state championship game. (For the Sun/JASON SCHMITT)
  • Sacred Heart's bench watches as their team rallied during the fourth quarter Saturday. (For the Sun/JASON SCHMITT)
  • Sacred Heart players storm the court after defeating Crystal Falls Forest Park in the Class D state championship game Saturday. (For the Sun/JASON SCHMITT)
  • Sacred Heart's student section was riled up after seeing its team rally past Crystal Falls Forest Park in the Class D state championship game Saturday. (For the Sun/JASON SCHMITT)

Irish win first-ever state championship in dramatic fashion

EAST LANSING – Riley Terwilliger may never again hit as big of a shot as she did Saturday morning at the Breslin Center.

With her team trailing 50-49 with 25 seconds remaining and with a Class D state championship hanging in the balance, the Sacred Heart Academy junior drained her only 3-pointer of the game from the corner to help solidify program history.

Coupled with four key makes at the charity stripe by the Irish down the stretch, Terwilliger’s 3-pointer helped give Sacred Heart a 56-53 victory over No. 1-ranked Crystal Falls-Forest Park and the program’s first-ever state championship.

“Coach drew up this play that we’ve had all year, and it doesn’t always work all the time, but he said to either take the jumper or look for Averi (Gamble), so I was wide open and I took the jumper,” Terwilliger said on the 3-point play. “I was kind of shocked because I thought it was going to be short and that I was going to air ball it.”

With a roster of only seven, the Irish found a way to battle through adversity this season and come away with a championship.

“I’m so thankful to be here and I’m so proud of these girls. It’s been an amazing journey with seven players on varsity this year to find our way to the state championship game,” said Sacred Heart head coach Damon Brown. “The way these girls battled for the last 2:48 was amazing. As a team, we’ve been in battles likes this all season, so we never worried. Our faith in our program never cracked and we just got it done.

“We talked a lot about getting stops today. If we could get those stops then we could build from there. We had a rough day shooting the ball today, but those kinds of days happen. You can put your hat on your defense and find ways to get stops…I’m so proud of these girls. The girls have worked hard every day to get to this point.”

Unranked in the final Associated Press Class D poll, Sacred Heart (22-5) cruised through the postseason, but had not faced a team like unbeaten Crystal Falls-Forest Park (26-1) or a player like Lexi Gussert all season. The 2014 Miss Basketball and Michigan State University commit was limited to just five points in the first half, but drained her second 3-pointer of the game with 3.7 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter to bring the Trojans within one at 54-53. Crystal Falls-Forest Park was forced to foul on the inbound, allowing Lexi Methner to seal the game at the line with a pair of makes.

The Irish trailed by five at 43-38 entering the final quarter, but found themselves looking directly at an uphill climb with 5:40 left and trailing 49-40.

Something clicked for Sacred Heart after a Terwilliger jumper brought the Irish within seven at 49-42 with 5:28 to go. Following two misses by Gussert at the line with 2:42 remaining, the Irish pieced together a massive 7-0 run, capped off by a steal and a layup off the inbound by Terwilliger. The junior’s steal and bucket had the Irish within one at 50-49 with 1:10 to go. The rest was history from that point on.

“Like coach said, we hang our hat on our defense and we didn’t want to go down missing our shots. You just build off of each defensive stop that you get and that just builds up your adrenaline to keep going and going,” Terwilliger said.

The offense truly came alive for the Irish in the second half, especially considering the fact that Sara Hansen and Averi Gamble combined to score all of Sacred Heart’s 26 first-half points. Terwilliger scored all but seven of her 11 points in the fourth quarter, while Methner contributed six.

The first two quarters were all Hansen and Gamble, but the Irish still trailed 27-26 at halftime following a prayer of a jumper by Kelsi Hendrickson at the buzzer.

Sacred Heart regained the momentum out of the locker room and opened the third quarter on a 6-0 run. Trailing 34-32 with 5:16 remaining, the Trojans answered with a 9-0 run and held the Irish of the scoreboard until a Terwilliger jumper with 1:02 left before the fourth.

“Mt. Pleasant Sacred Heart was a really good team with a couple of really tough players. We felt that we would have a matchup problem with their post player, and as the game went on it took a toll on us a little bit,” said Crystal Falls-Forest Park head coach Jeff Syrjanen. “We got out to a pretty good lead there in the fourth quarter, and it’s unlike our team, but I think we just cracked a little bit at the end and that’s not because of our effort. A lot of that run had to do with their defense and they knocked down all of their free throws when they needed to. It’s a very tough loss for us. We thought that we could finish this deal this year.”

Playing in the final game of her career, Hansen didn’t disappoint with 14 points, three assists and three steals. Only a sophomore, Gamble had one of the best games of her career with 25 points and 11 rebounds. Gamble was pivotal defensively against Gussert, who reached a double-double as well with 17 points and 12 rebounds.

“It’s been a great week at Sacred Heart. For us, we wanted to get over our quarterfinal curse. We’ve taken three trips to the quarterfinals since I’ve been a coach and we’ve lost the last two in overtime, so when we went to Frankfort this week we had the goal of eliminating the quarterfinal curse,” Brown said. “We followed the boys basketball game on Thursday with another win, and we went into the gym on Thursday, the school was just buzzing and busting at the seams.

“We really appreciate the support of the school and the community that we’ve received this week…It’s been a fun ride for us. Sacred Heart is a small school and we band together really well and support each other really well. The girls will be the first ones to high-five the boys once we get out of here.”

Last Updated: 3/16/2014 8:11:33 PM EST

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