The eruption in the postgame locker room resembled the scene of a state championship rather than the semifinals of the Catholic League tournament’s A-B Division.
Yet who could blame Orchard Lake St. Mary’s, considering opponent Warren De La Salle had beaten the Eaglets 15 straight times.
Wednesday night at Birmingham Marian that streak was stopped with a 66-51 St. Mary’s win and a trip to the finals Sunday at Calihan Hall.
“We hadn’t beat De La Salle in a bunch of years, so it was just good to win that one,” coach George Porritt said. “They are a great basketball team, and that was a good win. But now we’ve got to put that one aside, and in about 20 hours we’ll have to get ready for U-D, one of the best teams in the state.”
The game swung in St. Mary’s favor late in the first half and continued deep into the third quarter. De Le Salle (14-4) went ahead, 14-11, with 3:26 left until halftime thanks to two free throws by Alex Capoccia. But St. Mary’s closed out the half on an 8-0 run, then scored 12 more to open the third quarter and take a commanding 31-14 lead. De La Salle went scoreless for 8:38.
The lead grew to 50-30 with only 5 minutes remaining, but St. Mary’s (10-8) was right to not get too comfortable.
“Not against De La Salle,” Porritt said. “They’re too well coached, and they’ve had our number for too long, and we knew we had to keep plugging along. They trap you, they’re a smart team. If you want to beat them, you have to win the game.”
De Le Salle began popping in three-pointers, making five in the fourth quarter, while fouling St. Mary’s players to conserve the clock. The Pilots closed to within 59-50 with 1:24 left but couldn’t get closer as St. Mary’s made 14 of 19 free throws in the final period.
Eaglets junior Ted McCree led all scorers with 22 points, while teammate Jalen Watts-Jackson added 10.
“We executed our offense, we got a good team win,” McCree said. “I couldn’t have done it without my teammates. For us to beat them, that was a good quality win, so that meant a lot to us.
“I think at some point we got too comfortable and we had to kick it back in gear, keep executing our offense and play tight defense.”
De La Salle was paced by Kevin McKay’s 19 points and 13 from Chris Rollins, who made the three-pointer that closed the gap to single digits.
“We moved the ball real good, dumped the ball, handled their traps pretty good for the most part, and got some easy buckets there in the second half that made it a little bit easier for us,” Porritt said.