Gaylord varsity girls basketball coach Frank Hamilla admitted his Blue Devils’ squad was a bit in awe of going up against undefeated Grand Haven and 6-foot-5 center Abby Cole.
The underdog Blue Devils didn’t back down, but they certainly didn’t have an answer for Cole. The Miss Basketball finalist led the Buccaneers with her second consecutive triple-double — 13 points, 13 rebounds and 10 blocked shots — in a 54-34 Class A regional semifinals win at Traverse City West High School.
“You know, the girls all went online to see them, see the big girl,” said Hamilla, whose team was playing in the regional round for the first time since 1995. The Blue Devils closed out their season at 13-10.
Grand Haven (24-0), the defending state champions, was playing in its fourth consecutive regional tournament, and Cole has been a part of three of those teams. While her scoring, rebounding and defense were difference-makers, it was her passing that was the most impressive. Cole finished with six assists — nearly all of them to Taylor Craymer.
Craymer consistently found gaps in the Gaylord zone. Those gaps were created when the Blue Devils threw three defenders at Cole every time she caught the ball.
“I just kept sneaking in there and getting those little buckets,” the 6-foot-1 junior Craymer said. “That’s what we had to do. I’ll keep passing to Abby when they can’t find her, then we switch and she finds me.”
Craymer scored a game-high 16 points. Paired with Cole’s 13, they had more than half of the Bucs’ offensive output.
Tuesday’s contest was much closer than many expected for the first 16 minutes. Gaylord was smaller than Grand Haven at almost every position, but was also quicker than the Buccaneers. The Blue Devils used that quickness to pop off screens and hit several long jumpers early in the game.
When leading scorer Mackenzie Edwards sprung free and swished a 3-pointer three minutes into the game, the Blue Devils had a 7-2 lead, and their huge following of students — who came dressed as if ready for a Harlem Shake video — was going crazy.
The Bucs weathered the storm and tied the game on Angie Schultz’s 3-pointer 30 seconds later.
Still, the quick start energized the Blue Devils.
“We talked about not getting behind early, where we’d have to use our time outs,” Hamilla said. “That was the biggest key is it built some confidence. It was like, ‘There, see, you can play with them.’”
The game was tied at 13-all at the end of the first quarter, then the Bucs slowly began to pull away in the second. First, Craymer scored from inside for a 15-13 lead, then Cole swatted away a Gaylord shot and Bucs’ senior Hannah Wilkerson streaked down the court, crashed into a defender and still converted the layup for a 17-13 advantage.
Amanda Merz’ long jumper made it 19-13 and forced a Blue Devils’ time out.
Edwards continued to knock down shots for Gaylord, helping keep the Blue Devils within striking distance at the half, 25-19. Edwards and sharp-shooting guard Alexandra Simmons scored 15 of their team’s 19 first-half points.
In the third quarter, the Bucs extended their defensive pressure and rattled Gaylord, allowing Grand Haven to sprint out to a 31-21 lead on back-to-back buckets by Craymer, both assisted by Cole.
Merz then swiped the ball and raced in for a layup and a 33-21 lead. Gaylord never got closer than nine the rest of the night.
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