RECAP: Pilots Fall in Final Four Semifinal Game to Ann Arbor Huron 55-39.

De La Salle fought and fought until it could no longer on Thursday in its MHSAA Division 1 semifinal game with Ann Arbor Huron.

The Pilots (13-4) fell to the Huron River Rats (20-0), 55-39, at the Breslin Center in East Lansing. 

The 2021 season for the Purple and Gold was about so much more than Thursday's defeat at the hands of the River Rats, though. 

It was about the whole entire journey from start to finish, including getting acclimated to a new head coach in Gjon Djokaj and overcoming adverse circumstances that were presented by the coronavirus pandemic. 

"It was an unbelievable journey. I got hired here in late September. These guys welcomed me in. I told them in the locker room that they are De La Salle and that I was the newcomer. And it had to become a situation where I had to earn their trust," Djokaj said after the game. "And to be honest with you, sometimes that can be a challenge. These guys had an open mind from the beginning, though, and eliminated that challenge from the rip. And right away, they started learning about each other and learning our system."

Djokaj's squad did a solid job of stymieing Huron in the first half and limited the River Rats to just 19 first-half points.  

DLS trailed Huron at halftime, 19-15. 

Senior guard Linden Holder led all DLS scorers with seven points at the half, while sophomore big man Michael Sulaka contributed six points.

Sophomore guard Nino Smith dominated the box score for the Pilots in the third quarter. He scored eight of DLS's 12 points in the quarter and helped make it a 33-27 game going into the fourth quarter. 

The Purple and Gold came out flat offensively in the final quarter, however, and the River Rats proceeded to run away with the contest. They outscored the Pilots, 22-12, to end the game. 

Holder finished with a game-high 19 points, while Smith recorded 10 points. 

Holder will never forget the journey he and his teammates went on this season.

"This is something I'll never forget. I'll never forget my coaches. I'll never forget my brothers, my teammates," Holder commented after the game. "This is lifelong. It's just a moment, but it's going to last forever."

Although the Pilots weren't a preseason favorite to make the Final Four in Div. 1, Holder knew at the beginning of the season that the Purple and Gold were capable of making a deep run in the state tournament.

"It was something I knew we could do. But, back around August, we didn't even have a coach," Holder said. "So, it was wishy-washy, and no one really knew what was going on. My teammates and I all knew we could make it to the Breslin, though. But, it was a long way to go, and getting here was just amazing."

If the 2021 season taught us anything, it's to never count out the Pilots.


 

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