EAST LANSING – Generally in sports, one loss in a 27-game season is considered great.
But it’s not so fun when that single loss comes in the last game of the season, with a state championship on the line.
And it really hurts when it happens two years in a row.
The Kent City girls basketball team is wrestling with that feeling right now, after falling 54-50 to Ypsilani Arbor Prep on Saturday in the Division 3 state championship game at the Breslin Center at Michigan State University.
Last year the Eagles fell to Grass Lake 52-50. That means they have lost out on two state titles by a grand total of six points.
The Eagles trailed for most of Saturday’s game, with an eight-point deficit at halftime and nine points after three quarters, before fighting back hard in the fourth.
Kent City closed the gap to five points on several occasions in the final quarter, and three points with 2:15 remaining, but Arbor Prep made just enough free throws down the stretch to hang on and win the state title.
The Eagles finished the season with a 26-1 record, a CSAA Sliver Division championship, Division 3 district and regional titles, and a very nice state runner-up trophy.
That was not the trophy they wanted this time around, but the Eagles also understand that very few teams ever make the state finals at all, let alone two consecutive seasons.
“I think it’s just a great accomplishment to be here two years in a row,” said Kent City Coach Aleah Holcomb, who made it to the state finals in her first year as the varsity boss after serving five years as the JV coach. “Of course, we want to get the championship. We’ll be back.”
“I’m not very happy about it, that’s for sure,” said senior Emma Geers, just minutes after ending her four-year varsity basketball career. “But it was the best four years that I could have asked for. I’m proud of every single one of my teammates. It was amazing to play with not only my biological sister (Madelyn Geers) but all of the other teammates who are basically sisters, as well.”
Ann Arbor Prep led 13-11 after one quarter and used a 22-16 advantage in the second quarter to take a 35-27 lead at halftime.
The third quarter was much closer, with Ann Arbor Prep posting a 10-9 edge to take a 45-36 lead heading into the fourth.
Kent City played its best basketball in the final quarter, outscoring the Gators 14-9 in the final eight minutes, and almost coming all the way back.
Madelyn Geers had eight points in the fourth quarter to lead the comeback. She hit a driving layup with 2:15 remaining to make the score 49-46, but that was as close as the Eagles could get.
“We really fought back,” Holcomb said. “These girls have heart and they’re never going to give up.”
Kent City had trouble with Arbor Prep’s three-point attack, and senior guard Mya Petticord in general.
Petticord broke loose for 20 points, including three triples, in the first half. The Gators totaled five three-pointers in the half, which was all they had in the game.
Petticord finished with 27 points.
The Eagles also struggled with Arbor Prep’s aggressive trapping defense, with two defenders collapsing on the Kent City ball-handler as soon as she crossed midcourt, leading to many of the Eagles’ 15 turnovers.
“I thought we had a difficult time handling their pressure,” Holcomb said. “They made it difficult to get into our offense. Other than that, I thought we played hard.”
Fouls also became an issue for Kent City, with its two leading scorers, Madelyn Geers and Lexie Bowers, each drawing three by halftime.
The situation clearly had an impact on Bowers, who averages 17.3 points per game but was held to nine on Saturday.
“It was huge,” Holcomb said about the foul trouble. “Even offensively we had to be careful because of charge calls. We weren’t able to get inside the lane like we normally do, and weren’t able to finish as comfortable as usual because we were worried about charge calls.”
Geers had a great game despite the fouls, pouring in 27 points. Senior Taryn Preston added eight points and Savannah Miller added six. Bowers snagged nine rebounds, Emmalyn Geers had eight and Madelyn Geers grabbed seven.
“Maddie is a great athlete,” Holcomb said about Madeline Geers, who is only a sophomore. “We knew after the first quarter that she was going to have to be one of our top scorers. She is so athletic and was having the easiest time getting to the lane.
“She was exhausted by the end because she gave it everything she had.”