Sacred Heart poses a ‘huge’ challenge


Sports Editor

EAST?LANSING – Finding a way to contain a 6-foot-3, 260-pound center will be among the toughest tasks for the Forest Park Trojans in their Class D state championship matchup against Mt. Pleasant Sacred Heart.

“You can’t move her,” Forest Park head coach Jeff Syrjanen said of Sacred Heart sophomore center Averi Gamble. “She is a load. You just can’t move her. If she gets in the paint, we are in trouble.”

What the Lady Trojans hope to do is force the tempo, tiring out Gamble a primary goal.

Sacred Heart enters Saturday’s final at 21-5. The team, featuring just one senior, tied for first in the Mid-State Activities Conference.

“They are going to be tough,” Forest Park assistant coach Jackie Giuliani said. “They have that big girl inside. We’re going to have to defend hard, but stay out of foul trouble. They have quick guards. They are a solid team.

“I feel we can match up with them.”

Led by sixth-year coach Damon Brown (109-33), Sacred Heart returns to the finals for the first time since 2008 when they finished runner-up.

Senior guard Sara Hansen (5-6) leads the team in scoring with 19.1 point per game. She was selected to the all-state team this week. In Sacred Heart’s 49-35 quarterfinal win over Frankfort, Hansen scored 17 points. She had 16 in the 54-42 semifinal win over Marine City Cardinal Mooney.

“She is the glue,” Syrjanen said, comparing her to Superior Central’s Teslyn Tyner. “She really handles the ball well, an excellent player. We hope to try to take her out of the game a little bit.”

The Irish used a 12-0 in the second quarter and to take control of Thursday’s semifinal. A 15-2 push in the fourth put the game way.

Gamble averages just over 12 points and eight boards per contest. She had 10 and 10 in the semifinal. Against Frankfort, she put in 12 points and had 10 rebounds.

Junior Riley Terwilliger shores up the Irish backcourt with a 9.3 points per game average. A junior, Terwilliger came through with 19 points and 10 boards in the semifinal contest.

Sacred Heart is unranked team, but certainly no Stranger to deep postseason runs. The Irish were stopped in the quarterfinals two of the past four before Tuesday’s upset over Frankfort. Three of the team’s losses came to higher class schools. The Irish lost to Class C quarterfinalist Saginaw Nouvel, Class C No. 8 Carson City and Class B No. 5 Clare.

Syrjanen said he expects to see a 2-3 zone from the Irish.

“Pretty much straight up,” he said. “A lot of the film I saw showed that they are not a pressing team. That’s not to say they won’t, but I haven’t seen a whole lot of it from them.

“I think we’ll be able to score. The question will be whether or not we can stop them.”

As has been the case against most opponents, Syrjanen said Forest Park’s bench is deeper than Sacred Heart.

“Hopefully we can hang in there and get to the fourth quarter close,” he said. “I like our chances.”

Senior Kendra Campbell suffered a injury to her thumb in Thursday’s semifinal while battling for a rebound. She wasn’t able to return Thursday but plans to do all she can to play Saturday.

“I still have nine fingers left,” she joked on the radio following Thursday’s victory. Syrjanen said the senior will be a game-time decision.

“She told me we can cut it off, tape it up, and she’ll play,” he joked.

Spirits were obviously high following Thursday’s semifinal victory. Coach Syrjanen treated the girls to late-night chocolate shooters at Applebees following the game.

“I think they are all having a really good time,” he said.

Syrjanen added that the girls have handled the pressure and excitement of the whirlwind experience that is a state Final Four rather well.

“Last year with all the big crowds and college coaches coming to watch Lexi, these girls have gotten pretty used to this kind of stuff,” he said. “They’re just having a good time with it all.

The team was scheduled to hold a practice at nearby Haslett High School Friday with a spaghetti dinner set for later. Syrjanen is calling for lights out by 9 p.m.