Prep girls basketball: Gussert leads Forest Park over Superior Central in MHSAA Class D regional final
KINGSFORD – Like a skipping record, the public address announcer recited the score without fanfare.
“Lexi Gussert from three, Lexi Gussert for three, Sierra Robarge from three, Kendra Campbell for two, Lexi Gussert for two. Lexi Gussert putback…”
But this was a performance deserving of celebration.
There were some jaw dropping moments as Gussert and the Trojans dazzled a packed Kingsford High School gym with media from across the Upper Peninsula witnessing greatness.
Gussert, who has savored every minute of playing in front of small-town crowds before she begins playing for Michigan State in the fall, gave them a fitting sendoff during Thursday night’s MHSAA Class D regional final against Superior Central. She scored 43 points and led the Trojans to a 69-52 victory.
Gussert scored her team’s first 11 points, staking the Trojans out to an early 11-8 lead. Superior Central had kept pace until then thanks to some hot shooting from Brooke Pasanen and Vanessa Freberg, who each swished triples.
But Gussert delivered an early backbreaker when she unexpectedly found the ball in her hands in the waning seconds of the first. She chucked the ball up from well outside the arc, one-handed and watched it inexplicably go in as the buzzer sounded.
That’s the kind of night it was for the top-ranked Trojans (24-0).
When Gussert shot from outside, she seemingly couldn’t miss. When she had the ball inside, there was no answer, and when she wanted to pass, she always found her teammates, whether it was Robarge or Campbell all alone, in good position to score.
“I just want to give credit to my team. We knew we’d have to hustle like crazy, and that’s what we all did,” said Gussert. “I’m glad I could do that for the team.”
In the second quarter, the Trojans ramped it up to another level. Defensively they swarmed the Cougars’ shooters, blocking numerous shots and swiping steals. Offensively they shot four three-pointers.
Superior Central (21-3) was held to just four points in the quarter as they went cold. Forest Park meanwhile continued a 19-1 run that spanned the first and second quarters.
Before you could blink, an 18-12 game became a 29-13 game.
“The second quarter was huge for us,” said Forest Park head coach Jeff Syrjanen. “We really played a great game in the second quarter. Our defense was really good the whole first half.
“We knew that Superior had a couple of really decent players there, and we had to stop them. We put a lot of pressure on our girls to up and play some hard defense, and I thought they really did an outstanding job of it.”
Even though Forest Park held a commanding 40-16 at the half, Syrjanen respected the Cougars enough to know the contest wasn’t over.
Pasanen hit two of her three triples in the second half and Superior Central outscored the Trojans 15-9 in the third quarter and 36-29 in the second half to make it a little more respectable.
With the game within 20 points late, Syrjanen elected to keep his starters in, marking one of the only times this season the Trojans were challenged.
“In the second half we were a little mentally broke down I think. We haven’t played a whole game all year,” Syrjanen said. “We asked our kids to go deeper into the game tonight. I think we lost some shooters a few times and had a few mental breakdowns. We had a cushion, thank God, because Superior Central never quit. They are a fine team.”
Gussert was also impressed by Cougars’ senior trio down the stretch.
“I have to give a huge amount of credit to Superior Central. They played great,” she said. “I think it was Brooke, she was hitting stuff from like 40 feet back. It was amazing. They had a great year and they should be proud.”
Superior Central got within 13 points in the final minutes when Molly Swajanen a layup. Vanessa Freberg was on the bench by that point, having fouled out with 3:22 remaining.
Pasanen led the Cougars with 18 points. Freberg scored 15 and Tyner added 11. Kendra Campbell scored 10 points for Forest Park.
The Trojans will meet Posen in a state quarterfinal, Tuesday at Sault Ste. Marie. The game will mark the last stop in the Upper Peninsula for Gussert, the U.P.’s all-time leading scorer. The Vikings defeated Brimley 56-37, Thursday night.
“I expect them to go all the way,” said Superior Central head coach Greg Trowbridge of the Trojans. “I don’t want to be beat by the second-best, I want to be beat by the best. I’ll be rooting for them down in East Lansing.”