Familiar Foe Awaits Trojans in District Championship Game

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Thursday, March 5, 2020, 3:00 pm
Mark Meyer

The East Lansing girls will attempt to win their fifth straight district title at 7 p.m. Friday when they face DeWitt. (Photo by Gary Caldwell)

GRAND LEDGE—There are days, and nights, when the East Lansing girls make the game of basketball look too easy.

Run the floor. Dribble around your opponent. Pass to the open teammate. Take high percentage shots. Rebound the ball. Move your feet on defense. Rinse and repeat.

The Trojans won their district semifinal matchup Wednesday against St. Johns by doing all of the above quite well, with maximum effort and superior results: a 68-29 victory and a berth in Friday’s district championship game against DeWitt, which advanced to the final by defeating Waverly 55-30 in second semifinal game at Grand Ledge High School.

East Lansing defeated DeWitt twice en route to a 12-0 mark in the Capital Area Activities Conference (CAAC) Blue division. In the first meeting between the two teams on Dec. 20, sophomore guard Soraya Timms had one of her best games of the season (19 points) and the Trojans rolled to a 62-38 victory. The second matchup, albeit closer in score (57-42) at the end of 32 minutes, reinforced East Lansing’s edge this year in what typically is a very contentious rivalry.

Ahlura Lofton scored a pair of 3s in Wednesday’s win over St. Johns. (Photo by Gary Caldwell)

In fact, DeWitt is one of only four teams to have defeated East Lansing in the past three seasons.

“They know us, we know them, and I’m expecting one heckuva game,” East Lansing head coach Rob Smith said Wednesday, following his team’s semifinal victory. “These two programs have been competing hard against each other for several years now. We expect nothing less on Friday.”

East Lansing, now 21-1, overwhelmed St. Johns in the first four minutes by scoring the game’s first 20 points. Miss Basketball candidate Aaliyah Nye made her first four field goal attempts, three of which were a couple of steps behind the three-point arc, and the Trojan press suffocated any chance that the Redwing offense might get untracked.

After St. Johns head coach Mark Lasceski called his first timeout just over a minute into the game, the Trojans responded by forcing three consecutive Redwing turnovers, each one resulting in an East Lansing basket.

Sug Williams was a perfect 5-for-5 shooting in Wednesday’s semifinal win over St. Johns. (Photo by Jim Pivarnik)

“What’s really important about a game like this is our kids coming off the bench who are playing more minutes and gaining more confidence,” Smith said. “We’re finding out what kids we can count on and trust when the game is still on the line, and that’s very important.”

Lasceski called his second timeout with 3:30 left in the first quarter and his team trailing by 22. Gabby Dobernick broke the Redwing scoring drought on a trey with 1:50 remaining in the quarter. East Lansing led 35-5 after one quarter and 52-15 by halftime.

Nye, who sat out the entire second half along with fellow senior starters Sanaya Gregory and Ahlura Lofton, made 8 of her 11 field goal attempts (5 of 6 treys) to lead the Trojans in scoring with 21 points. Fellow senior Sug Williams was a perfect 5-for-5 from the floor for 11 points, while junior Bre’Naya Lane also contributed 11 points.

Senior point guard Sanaya Gregory (4), a four-year starter, leads the Trojan fast break. (Photo by Jim Pivarnik)

St. Johns, which finished the season with a record of 8-13, made 9 of its 32 field goal attempts and committed 19 turnovers. Williams led East Lansing with four steals.

Smith knows that part of DeWitt’s game plan will be to minimize Nye’s impact as much as possible.

“We’ll need to make adjustments when (DeWitt) tries to take her away from her shot,” Smith said. “I like our chances with some of our other kids, that’s for sure. Ahlura Lofton and Soraya Timms can really knock it down. Sanaya Gregory is so solid at the point guard. Shug Williams had a great night tonight. We’re clicking on all cylinders but we know we’ll have a great team waiting for us on Friday.”

If the officiating is anything like it was Wednesday, Smith will have to be careful about his movement along the Trojan bench come Friday night. Late in the game Wednesday, referee Mark Simon slapped a bench warning on Smith for straying too far outside the coaching box (a designated area on the sideline where coaches are allowed to position themselves during the game.) Simon had also whistled East Lansing earlier in the game for huddling too close to the midcourt line during a timeout.

Smith (above) was dumbfounded by both calls, but promised to be on his best behavior for the final.

“I guess I’d better study up a little bit more to make sure I stay in my lane,” he said.

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