Birmingham, Bloomfield TownshipMarch 19, 2014
Dominant postseason finishes with Class A title for Marian basketball team
By Mike Moore
C & G Sports Writer
EAST LANSING — Dominance was the calling card.
From the regular season to the state playoffs, there was a surgical precision as to how the Marian basketball team frustrated, overwhelmed and eventually disposed of one opponent after the another.
A swarming and persistent defense that fed an up-tempo and strike-at-any time offense was fueled by a motivated senior, a group of something-to-prove underclassmen, and a freshman who only played better as the stakes got higher.
And here, under the brightest lights with the highest stakes, was the exclamation point.
Here, in the final test, the final game of 2013-14, was the chance to validate all the hype, to cement the legacy of a team that was as good as any that had come before it.
In program history, there may never be one better.
“This means the world to us,” junior Jaeda Robinson said after the Mustangs dismantled Canton High 44-26 in a March 15 Class A state final at the Breslin Center. “To do this for coach. To do this for (Laura Bruton), it means the world.”
“It was a whole team victory,” Mustangs coach Mary Cicerone said afterward. “It was a great victory.”
The team concept was key, because that’s how the Mustangs functioned; that’s what made them so deadly.
Bruton, the team’s lone senior, was the leader. She endured so much in her career, but remained steadfast on finding a title.
From a back injury as a freshman, to a third-degree burn on her hand as a sophomore, to a broken nose this season, there simply was no slowing her down.
When the championship trophy was presented to the team, Bruton was the first to hold it, and she held it high.
“I think it was her perseverance that the kids saw that meant so much,” Cicerone said. “The other girls saw how badly she wanted this; how much it meant to her. They rallied around her.”
“I know how to persevere, and that’s why this state title means the world to me,” Bruton said. “I can’t think of a better feeling.”
Marian’s journey to East Lansing was one built on a series of convincing wins.
The Mustangs opened the playoffs with a 41-27 victory against Farmington Hills Harrison and then claimed a district title with a 59-35 win against North Farmington.
In the regional round, they cruised past Lathrup Village Southfield-Lathrup 65-30 and then beat Rochester Hills Stoney Creek 45-26 in the final.
A 43-17 victory against Port Huron Northern in the quarter set up a meeting against Farmington Hills Mercy in the semifinals.
It was the fourth time the Catholic League foes met this winter, and Marian avenged its only two losses of the season with a 67-55 victory.
The Canton game was never close.
Marian started on a 9-2 run and held Canton to just four points in the opening quarter for an 11-4 lead.
Every time the Chiefs threatened to make things interesting — trailing just 16-13 at one point — Marian found another run.
Thanks in large part to forcing six turnovers and scoring 10 points off the takeaways, the Mustangs led 22-16 by halftime.
“We struggled a little bit to score in the first half,” Cicerone said. “But I thought our trapping press in the second (half) was the difference.”
Marian’s defensive pressure amplified as the game went on. Canton managed just five points in the third quarter, while the Mustangs’ patient offensive attack poured in 13 for a commanding 35-21 lead.
Freshman Samantha Thomas keyed the third-quarter takeover with three, three-point plays in the final 4:13 of the frame.
“My teammates drove the ball. They just missed (a few shots), and I was there to get the rebound,” Thomas said of her nine points in the third. She led all scorers in the game with 15 points.
After forcing another Canton turnover on the opening possession of the fourth, Kara Holinski drilled a 3-pointer to put Marian up 17.
Canton didn’t score its first points in the fourth until 3:36 remained in the game and never solved Marian’s defensive attack, finishing the game with 19 turnovers and shooting just 25 percent from the field.
The title was the fifth for Marian in program history and the first since 1998.
“You just want this for them. These kids work hard in the offseason, lifting weights, running. You want it for them, because you like them so much,” Cicerone said. She completed her 31st season on the Mustangs’ bench, but was contemplating retirement not long ago. “It’s easy to want to come back when you have these types of kids.”
And speaking of coming back, the early odds would favor Marian making the trip to East Lansing again next year.
The Mustangs will have to replace Bruton’s leadership, but so many other pieces are already in place, and the players are loaded with confidence.
“The goal is be here again,” junior Brittany Gray said. “We’re going for back to back.”
After a 25-2 season and almost an entire roster set to return, Marian will be favored to do just that when next winter begins.
But for now, the focus, the celebration and the memories will resonate on this team — this year and this run.
Dominant, from start to finish, the Mustangs were the best Class A had to offer, and now they own the hardware to prove it.