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GIRLS' BASKETBALL: Richard's season ends in first ever trip to final-four (PHOTOS)
Emily Cooper got the scoring started for Riverview Gabriel Richard and ended the first quarter with a triple and field goal to lead the Pioneers to a 9-3 advantage after the first quarter. Photo Credit: Dave Chapman
Richard's Casey Lyons and Ashley Henderson fight to get possession of the ball back in Thursday's Class C Final-Four game. Photo Credit: Dave Chapman
This season both teams found themselves in a MHSAA Class C semifinal game and it was Manchester that go the upper hand with its 53-46 victory Thursday afternoon in East Lansing.
The game was much closer than the final score indicated, but an early fourth-quarter scoring spurt by the eventual winners was the deciding factor.
It looked like it would be a Richard day after eight minutes of play.
The Pioneers’ defense dominated and allowed just one Manchester field goal on 19 shots and Richard took a 9-3 advantage after eight minutes.
But the game was only just beginning.
Manchester’s McKenna Erkfritz got to work and with quick free throws and field goals, put her team quickly back into the game.
With 6:02 left to play in the half, Taylor Manders came up with a big three and the Flying Dutchmen had a 10-9 lead they would hold on to for five minutes of play.
The teams battled back-and-forth and Richard took a lead but Erkfritz and Jessie Manders led Manchester to a 19-18 lead at the half.
It was intense last minute of the second quarter and Manchester knew there was still a long way to go.
“We knew that the second half had to be us,” Coach Cori Kastel said. “We had to be more creative on the offense and force them to guard us.
“But one of the big things was they had to play our game. And that’s what we can’t go away from. We’ve been playing our game all season long and that’s why we’re 25-1.”
The game stayed close in the third quarter with the score difference between the squads never exceeding three points.
Richard’s Ashley Henderson tied the game 25-25 halfway through the period, but Manchester quickly regained the lead and held a 36-33 advantage after three.
No one expected what happened in the final quarter.
The Manchester offense exploded and the Dutch went on a 14-4 run for a 50-37 lead.
Erkfritz and Manders led the way, contributing a combined 17 points in the quarter.
The Pioneers cut into the lead and Henderson drew her team to within 52-46 with 1:39 to play, but when Manders made a free throw with 12 seconds to do, the game was all but over.
It has been a season of many firsts Manchester girls, who saw not only their first district and regional championships, but are now on their way to their first ever state-final game.
But it did not come easy and the Flying Dutchman had to overcome adversity on Thursday to secure their spot.
“We had an off shooting night,” Kastel said. “But we persevered and buckled down and our defense held us in the game and here we are playing for the title.”
Erkfritz’s thoughts echoed her coach’s.
“Like Coach said, our outside game wasn’t there, so we buckled down and took it inside,” she said. “We were doing everything we could to keep up with them.
“We know that if we put more than one person inside, they’re going to have to pick and choose who to guard.
"That defense can break down really easily and we found the open parts of it.”
Overcoming adversity is not new to the Flying Dutchmen, but Kastel said she always had confidence in her team.
“One of the big things is they know they can get it done,” she said. “We’ve always known the potential that this group was going to grow into. We’ve known from this summer that this was where we wanted to be.”
The team faced a tough district final and the win gave the girls a confidence boost, according to Kastel.
“(Then) in regionals for the first time in a long time, we were playing from behind,” Kastel said. “We’re not used to that. That’s kind of what broke us last year.”
But Manchester had a number of girls back from last season, including its entire starting lineup.
“They weren’t gonna let it happen again,” Kastel said.
“We’re deep and we’re composed and any kid that we put out there that played today can handle the ball pressure.”
Gabriel Richard knew its opponent was better than it had been a year ago.
“(We knew) their guard play had improved,” Richard Coach William Jones said. “We had talked about that in pre-game about making sure we try to keep our guards in front of us.
“Sometimes it isn’t the plays, it’s the players making the plays (and) today they had some great plays when they need to.”
The Pioneers suffered some out of character play and had 23 turnovers on the day to Manchester’s 11 and struggled somewhat with the press.
“The purpose of a press is to make the team that you’re pressing make mental mistakes,” Henderson said. “That’s what we did. We over-thought it and just had turnovers that affected the way that we played.
Jones’s thoughts echoed his star player’s and he said that sometimes it is not how many mistakes a team makes, but when they occur that can make or break a game.
“Some of the inconsistencies in one or two areas we had kind of bit us in the butt today,” Jones said. “Right when we’re on the cusp of getting back in and putting all that pressure on them, they get a run and the scorer gets a layup or she throws it backwards and we get a turnover.
“(You look at) when does that stuff happen and how does it affect the overall group. Certainly wish they would have not shown up at all, but a good team makes you do that stuff.”
Despite the loss, the Pioneers saw scoring from seven different players; something the team has been stressing all year.
Kastel and her team’s main goal was to stop the play of Richard’s star, Henderson.
“Going into this game we said that we always have to have a body on her,” Kastel said.
But even with a body, Henderson still finished in double digits.
“Henderson’s good,” Kastel said. “You’re not going to stop a kid like that. She’s an athlete. She’s a scorer. She’s used to the pressure.
“She’s used to walking around with a target on her back. We just wanted to make it difficult for her.”
When Henderson started tiring other girls out, Manders was put her.
“I knew I could do it,” she said. “I just contained her in front of me. As long as I kept her in front of me, I would be successful.
“As we started applying more pressure, they were looking for her. As long as we had somebody glued to her, it forced the other guard to dribble and we had a great ball pressure to get the steal.”
Despite being targeted, Henderson still finished the day just short of a double-double with 21 points and nine rebounds.
Emily Cooper and Morgan Casanova each recorded seven points and three rebounds, Casey Lyons had five points and six rebounds and Jacquelyne Reitmeyer had three points.
The Flying Dutchmen were led by Erkfritz with her double-double of 19 points and 10 rebounds. Manders had 16 points to go with her six boards and older sister Taylor finished with 11 points and five boards. Jesse Coltre recorded seven points.
Jones said he was extremely proud of his team for their play this season and said it is not about the trophy.
“The end is not the trophy,” he said. “It’s just a symbol. It’s an object.
“It doesn’t have anything to do with the job you really did and what you really accomplished. It merely acknowledges that it occurred. It doesn’t have any more significance than that. What you keep inside of you. That’s everlasting.”
As the Pioneers look to the future, they lose a key player in Henderson when she graduates this June, but little sister Kelly will be ready to step up.
Ashley followed oldest sister Lauren, also a career 1,000-point scorer, and now it will be Kelley’s turn.
"Now I've got to plan for the final Henderson era, in preparation for the post Henderson era” Jones said.
Overall, Jones said his team has left something special.
“I told them that you all set the benchmark and now it’s what comes behind you,” he said.
Manchester will have one more game in this season and win or lose, it will be their last.
“It’s a bittersweet feeling,” Erkfritz said. “This is my ideal game; my last (high school) game that I would ever want to play.
“When I was a freshman I used to come up and watch the teams play and think I don’t think we’re ever gonna be there. But a couple years down the line I realized we had the potential.
“This year from the very first game, we knew we had a chance to get here and we weren’t going to stop until we were.”
Kastel is thrilled about the state final game and said she is not worried about nerves affecting the team.
“We played here once,” she said. “So now it’s not new. We know we belong here.
“We battled through an ugly first half and we still went into the locker room one point ahead. We’re gonna leave it all out on the line.”
Manchester plays the winner of the Saginaw Nouvel – a 44-32 winner over Houghton Thursday – at 4 p.m. on Saturday.
Last Updated: 3/14/2013 8:11:27 PM EST