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Bucs bow out in state semifinals

Nate Thompson • Jul 21, 2015 at 10:50 AM

Detroit Renaissance, which was making its third-straight trip to the Breslin Center and was last season's Class A runner-up, escaped with a 39-38 victory over the top-ranked Bucs, sending the Phoenix to a noon title game matchup with Inkster.

The Vikings defeated Canton in Friday's later Class A semifinal by the exact same score, 39-38.

"We battled 'til the end," Grand Haven coach Katie Kowalczyk-Fulmer, who was named the Associated Press Class A Coach of the Year on Thursday. "That's a great team we faced and we got down a couple times, but we had a chance for the win."

Grand Haven trailed by six, 35-29, with 3:37 to play, but the Bucs refused to go away and had victory within reach in the closing minute of action.

Bucs' 6-foot, 5-inch sophomore center Abby Cole swished a short jumper with just over a minute to play and then was fouled on another made bucket with 30 seconds left, drawing Grand Haven to within a point, 38-37.

Cole's ensuing free throw was off the mark, but she snuck into the paint, corralled the rebound and appeared to be fouled as she powered up for a putback. Instead, the referees whistled a jump ball, giving possession to the Phoenix.

Grand Haven quickly fouled guard Blake Calhoun, who missed the front end of a 1-and-1 free throw. Grand Haven point guard Shar'Rae Davis took control, as she pushed up-court was fouled on a strong drive to the hoop, but she managed just 1-of-2 free throws, tying the contest.

After a Renaissance timeout, the Phoenix worked their way through Grand Haven's full-court pressure, and senior guard Elizabeth Badgett had the ball in her hands at the top of the key. Davis was too aggressive trying to slow Bladgett's drive, and the Bucs' guard was whistled for her fifth foul, sending Badgett to the free throw line with 2.6 seconds remaining.

"It was an unfortunate foul call there," Kowalczyk-Fulmer said. "But no one play ever wins or loses you the game."

After swishing her first attempt, Badgett said she intentionally missed the second. Grand Haven snatched the rebound, but the crafty Badgett snuck in front of the Bucs' outlet pass, stealing the ball and securing the win as the buzzer sounded.

Phoenix coach Diane Jones was surely relieved after the narrow escape. The first words out of her mouth in the postgame news conference were "Thank God." 

Her squad shot just 30 percent from the floor (14-of-46) and was 0-of-6 from the 3-point line. But Renaissance thrived with the play of 6-2, 220-pound center Arrice Bryant, who had 12 points and eight rebounds and frustrated the Bucs as an immovable force in the paint. With Bryant and fellow low-post bruiser Alexis Harris (14 points, 12 rebounds) by her side, the Phoenix had 16 offensive rebounds and 10 second-chance points.

"It was my job to front (Bryant), and I thought I did a pretty good job in the first half. But she managed to get around us a few times later on," said Grand Haven senior forwad Lindsey Burnside. "Abby tried to stay strong against them, but she doesn't have much to her. She just couldn't get her blocks tonight. It was rough trying to battle down there."

Still, Renaissance's largest lead was only four throughout the first half, a 9-5 cushion after one quarter. The Bucs stayed on the Phoenix's heels thanks to their outside shooting, namely guard Alex Law.

Feared to be lost for the contest after she dislocated her kneecap in Tuesday's quarterfinals, Law put a brace on her knee, gutted out the pain and played remarkably well. She hit three of Grand Haven's six 3-pointers and finished with nine points.

The Bucs trailed at the half, 15-14, but Law opened the third quarter scoring with her third triple.

"That kid is pretty fascinating, playing on one good leg," Jones said. "I told the girls guarding her to forget about help-side defense. We needed to check where she was at all times.

"What did she hit, 3-of-10 from 3?" Jones asked. "On a good leg, she's probably 5-of-10 or 6-of-10."

After a slow start, Davis also picked it up, scoring the last five points of the third quarter to give Grand Haven a 24-21 lead. But the Bucs could never pull away due to 14 turnovers and the physicality of the Phoenix.

"Their defense was different from what we've seen the entire year," Grand Haven guard Sarah Kober said. "They were very quick. They jumped to the ball, jumped to the ball, and tried to slap the ball away. They were right in our face."

The Phoenix distanced themselves with a 6-0 run midway through the fourth, including a nice drop-step and power layup by Bryant — one of three Division 1 college-bound players for Renaissance.

Grand Haven's late rally was marred by a unfortunate timeout request by Kowalczyk-Fulmer — asked for just seconds before Law drained what would have been her fourth 3-pointer with 59 seconds left. The potential game-tying bucket was waived off.

"I knew we needed a three, but I was afraid we'd come down and throw up some quick shot, and we'd be forced to foul and they'd make two free throws be up five," Kowalczyk-Fulmer said. "When it went in, I tried to pretend (to the refs) that I didn't call it.

"We wanted to run a set play," she added. "Law should have had 12 points, but she only had nine. That's my fault."

Cole had nine points, eight rebounds and three blocks. Davis, a first-team All-State selection, led the Bucs with 12 points and also had five assists and three rebounds. Kober was 2-of-2 beyond the 3-point line and added six points.

Grand Haven was left in tears afterward, but it didn't diminish its best season in program history, including their first trip to the semifinals since 1981.

"It was back and forth all game. Grand Haven is a good team. They came in ranked high and they have got all the key components," Jones said. "They've got a great point guard, a good, tall center and great shooters. I'm not surprised they didn't keep playing and do well.

"I expect them to be here next year."

So does Law and the rest of the Bucs' underclassmen. Grand Haven loses only three seniors from this squad and will return three starters.

"What we're feeling right now, we can't forget it, because next year we'll have to work so much harder to get back to this point," Law said, who was limping badly after the contest and had an large ice pack taped around her knee. "If we do that and put everything we have towards this, this group can't take anything less than winning the state title next year."

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