With her team draped around her, Abby Cole hoisted the Class A championship trophy high above her head, like it was a rebound she had just snatched in the paint.
She showcased the impressive hardware in front of the Bucs’ adoring fans, a massive swarm of students, then, like it was the Stanley Cup, the team paraded to the other side of the Breslin Center, where another huge group of Grand Haven students were ready to give their roar of approval.
If this was what Grand Haven had in mind for a dream season, consider it completed.
“This is the most special season I could ask for,” Cole said.
“I’ll remember this one for sure,” added Grand Haven senior Hannah Wilkerson, who led the Bucs with 17 points on a perfect 8-of-8 shooting night. “No one from Grand Haven has ever gone 28-0 and won the state championship. We wanted to make it to state this year. We worked hard and we did it.
“It’s always been our goal. We knew Grosse Pointe South was good, but coach kept saying we have to believe in ourselves.”
The Bucs not only believed, they achieved. Their thrilling 60-54 win over Grosse Pointe South (25-2) did indeed clinch the program’s first-ever undefeated season and back-to-back state titles, but the victory was unlike any of the other 27 wins the Bucs had enjoyed. With their relentless full-court pressure, the talented Blue Devils forced the Buccaneers into a season-high 32 turnovers and had Grand Haven on the ropes with just over three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
Cole was whistled for her fourth foul with 1:03 left in the third quarter on a call that could have easily been let go as a blocked shot. But with the Bucs’ Class A Player of the Year forced to the bench, the Blue Devils slowly began chipping away at Grand Haven’s 11-point third-quarter lead.
Cole sat on the bench for the final minute of the third quarter and the opening two minutes of the fourth. In that time, the Devils fought back to within contention at 42-38.
“"It was so frustrating," Cole said, who had her streak of three-straight triple-doubles snapped, but still totaled 11 points, eight blocks and seven rebounds. "I was tapping my foot, pulling on my jersey, biting my tongue. I'm just thinking 'Oh my gosh.’ It was so stressful. "But that's where the confidence in my team comes in. I really do trust them in those types of situations and know they'll make the smart play. And when it comes down to it, they did.”
Grosse Pointe South finally grabbed its first lead since the first quarter when super sophomore Cierra Rice swooped into the lane and banked in a tough shot, giving her squad a 49-48 edge with 3:30 left in the fourth quarter.
“I knew (Cole) was fouling, so I thought I needed to keep going at her,” Rice said, who led all scorers with 24 points. “I was trying to get her out of the game, because she’s a huge player for Grand Haven.”
Despite coughing up the lead, Grand Haven actually pulled back ahead on back-to-back buckets by Wilkerson and junior forward Taylor Craymer. But Grosse Pointe South tied the game at 52-all on a corner 3-pointer by Gretchen Shirar.
It was a rare swish for the Blue Devils, as they were just 4-of-24 from beyond the 3-point line and finished the game shooting a dismal 26.9 percent overall.
Both teams had multiple chances to score a go-ahead bucket in the final 45 seconds, but the Bucs turned the ball over twice and the Devils had a turnover and a missed desperation heave from half-court at the buzzer.
Although Grosse Pointe South closed the fourth with momentum on their side, it quickly swung back to Grand Haven in overtime – the first overtime ever in a Class A title game.
“We just said ‘we have four minutes left to our season,’” Kowalczyk-Fulmer told her team before the overtime. “We’ve led this whole game except for the first minute. We can do this.”
Read more of this story in today's print edition or e-edition of the Grand Haven Tribune.