Country Day collects 12th state title

The Yellowjackets shot 22 of 34 from the floor in the contest

By: Timothy Pontzer | C&G Newspapers | Published March 18, 2017

EAST LANSING — As he watched his team earn its second Class B state title in three years, Beverly Hills Detroit Country Day head coach Frank Orlando had to wipe away tears on the sideline.

In his 36th year at the helm of the Yellowjackets and 50th year coaching overall, Orlando pumped his fist in the waning seconds as the DCD student section chanted his name. He captured his 759th victory with DCD as his team topped Ypsilanti Arbor Prep 59-48 March 18 at the Breslin Center.

"It was emotional, because it was like watching my daughters playing basketball in the backyard," Orlando said. "I just love it. This means the world to me, because that's why I got into coaching. I'll tell you the truth, even with 50 years, I never thought I would win one. Since I've come to Country Day, I've won a couple, and I appreciate the sentiment and the effort they gave."

Orlando's seniors embraced him in a group hug following the victory, saying they wanted to earn his and the program's 12th crown not for themselves, but for the longtime leader.

"The tradition that was instilled in our seniors is the most important thing at Country Day, and that all comes from Coach O," said senior guard Destiny Pitts. "We always want to win it for Coach O because of the way that he puts us in front of himself. He doesn't care about the wins, he cares about the girls, and we really wanted this for him."

When questioned about possible retirement, Orlando quickly shot that down, saying he will certainly return for a title defense. He choked up several more times as he heard his players attribute the championship as a mission to honor him.

"For me personally, I was playing for Coach O," Pitts said. "During the offseason he had a stroke, and it kind of hit me hard. This season I've been playing for him because I know how important this is to him. Coming into this game we had extreme confidence, because we wanted to take the state championship back to our fans and the Country Day community."

In order to secure the banner, the Yellowjackets (26-1) had to knock off a pair of reigning state champions in the span of 48 hours on the Breslin hardwood. In the semifinals, DCD edged out defending Class B victor Marshall High 46-42 before advancing to face Arbor Prep, the winner of the Class C trophy last season.

DCD utilized a 10-0 run – spanning from the end of the first quarter into the start of the second – to build up a lead that reached as high as 17. During the scamper, the Yellowjackets defense stepped up, holding the Gators without a point for nearly 10 minutes of regulation. Arbor Prep only managed two total field goals in the second quarter, seeing DCD take a 27-15 lead into halftime.

"We played a zone that hurt them a little bit," Orlando said. "We played defense as well as we could. Everything seemed to flow, and it was just one of those miracle games where the whole plan works perfectly."

In addition to tough defense, the Yellowjackets showed proficiency from behind the arc, hitting 7-of-12 3-pointers. Overall, DCD shot 64.7 percent from the floor, while the Gators could only muster 34.6 percent in the contest.

"I think we did that since we kept moving the ball," Pitts said. "We weren't forcing shots, we were able to make good passes until we found an open person. We all were sharing the ball and were confident that we could knock down our shots."

A trio of Yellowjackets chipped in double-digit scoring efforts, as Pitts led the game with a double-double of 17 points and 10 rebounds. Senior center Tylar Bennett registered 15 points, shooting 7 of 8 from the floor and junior guard Kaela Webb notched 13, going 3 of 4 from downtown while also dishing nine assists.

"With Kaela, I told her if you've got the shot, take it," Orlando said. "I have extreme confidence in her and the rest of the girls. I mean, we shot 60 percent today, that definitely shows confidence."

"Over these past four years, Coach O has helped me to develop so much," Bennett added. "Just keeping me in the gym so I can improve on everything. I knew my game was in the post and today I was able to have a great game."

The loss handed Arbor Prep (27-1) its first defeat of the season, snapping a 36-game winning streak that spanned three calendar years.

"This is a very difficult loss today," said Arbor Prep coach Rod Wells. "I thought Country Day played a really good game, and they made a lot of shots in the first half while we didn't make those same shots. After that, it was difficult to make up the gap."

Asked again about possibly calling it quits, Orlando chuckled but firmly reiterated that he will return to the DCD sidelines.

"I think it was a misconception that I was all done," Orlando said. "I just love it so much, it is something that keeps me going. I don't know what it is, but today is really satisfying for so many reasons. We won the last one when a lot of these girls were sophomores and freshmen. I was excited and very happy, but kind of surprised that we did. This year it was more emotional, because they're leaving, but we still have plenty of girls coming back who will want to win again."

His point guard agreed.

"Me and Coach O, I think we have another one in us," Webb said.