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Bloomfield Hills, Farmington Hills

March 14, 2014

Marian claims spot in Class A final with 67-55 victory against Mercy

By Mike Moore
C & G Sports Writer

» click to enlarge «
Mercy's Taylor Jones stretches out to save the ball from going out of bounds during Friday's semifinal. Mercy and Marian faced one another for the fourth time this winter.

EAST LANSING — This time, there will be no encore.

And that’s the shame of it.

For the fourth and final time this winter, the Farmington Hill Mercy and Bloomfield Hills Marian basketball squads met on the hardwood.

And all the hype and excitement leading up to Friday’s Class A state semifinal at the Breslin Center was entirely justified after the Catholic League rivals squared off in a back-and-forth grudge match that saw Marian eventually pull away for a 67-55 victory and a spot in tomorrow’s final.

“I thought I’d be retired before I got back here,” Marian coach Mary Cicerone said with a laugh afterward. Marian was in the semifinals for the first time since winning a state in 1998. "But I knew I had something (with this team). You don’t need to be a very good coach to work with this team.”

Knowing the stress Mercy’s press can cause, and did cause when Marian lost in the Catholic League final at the end of the regular season, Cicerone had a prediction for her squad.

“I told them if we handle the press, we’d win by 15,” she said. “If we didn’t, we’d lose by 15.”

She wasn’t far off.

Marian led 14-12 after the first quarter and used an 8-0 run midway through the second to build a 32-26 advantage by halftime.

Mercy seemed to find its rhythm in the third, though, holding Marian to just six points in the frame for more than seven minutes, narrowing the deficit to 38-36 with 30 seconds to play in the quarter.

But then Marian’s Bailey Thomas nailed a 3-pointer with 22 seconds to play to make it 41-36, and after Mercy missed a shot and lost the ball out of bounds with 0.08 seconds to play in the quarter, Marian heaved the ball down court for an eventual layup by Brittany Gray at the buzzer and a 43-36 lead after three.

Mercy came out strong again in the fourth, using its press and a series of forced turnovers to pull within 50-48 with 4:36 to play.

“We had some trouble with there press,” Cicerone said of Mercy’s run. “We panicked a little. So we called a timeout to reorganize and boost them up.”

It worked.

Marian went on a 17-7 run to close the game out.

“We wanted to keep our mental toughness and keep the lead,” said Marian’s lone senior Laura Bruton. “We were so focused, so determined to beat Mercy.”

Mercy ends the season 25-2, with its only two losses coming to Marian.

“We started a little slow, dug that hole, and then couldn’t get out of it,” said Mercy coach Gary Morris. “Obviously, it’s a tough way to end the season, but I’m so proud of these kids.”

Kara Holinski led all scorers with 20 points (13 in the fourth quarter) in the win and added a game-high four assists. Gray finished with 14 points and nine rebounds, while Samantha Thomas scored 13 points.

Marian hit 25 of its 35 free throws.

Taylor Jones led Mercy with 15 points, while Candice Leatherwood scored 14.

Leatherwood eclipsed the 1,000-point total for her career. Morris said she finished with 1,007.

Sierra LaGrande added 11 points in the loss.

The Mustangs, now 24-2, face Canton High (22-4) in Saturday’s final at 12 p.m.

Marian beat Canton 49-38 in the first game of the regular season this year.

Mike Moore will be at Saturday's Class A final between Marian and Canton. For full coverage, visit www.candgnews.com and click on the Sports tab.

You can reach C & G Sports Writer Mike Moore at mmoore@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1038. Twitter Follow Mike on Twitter.