Birmingham Marian’s players graciously waited for the regional trophy to be handed over to them Thursday at Lake Orion — it was about the only thing they didn’t grab all night.
The Mustangs (19-2) forced Rochester Hills Stoney Creek into coughing up the ball 22 times, and followed up by scoring 21 points off turnovers in a 45-26 Class A regional championship victory, Marian’s second straight.
“We focus a lot on denying, especially against teams that have a lot of shooters,” senior forward Laura Bruton said. “We close the passing lanes and after the team picks up the dribble, they don’t have any options, so they have to throw it away, and we can convert those into points.”
Kara Holinski led with 11 points, while Bailey Thomas added 10 and Bruton had nine, all while holding the Cougars (18-7) to a season-low offensive output.
Natalie Voss was Stoney Creek’s high scorer, but all nine of her points came beyond the three-point arc. And that left just 17 points for the rest of the Cougars’ roster to split between them.
“Definitely one of the biggest keys was to keep number 5 (point guard Maria Zandi) on lockdown,” Holinski said. “She was the goal to their whole offense. We just needed to contain her, we had to deny everyone else, and that’s what we did very well.”
“That’s been our staple all year. We try to get after it,” said coach Mary Cicerone, as the Mustangs avenged a loss in their last game with the Cougars, in the 2012 regionals.
Stoney Creek coach Brad Crighton acknowledged that Marian’s aggressive defense threw his team out of sync, as the Cougars didn’t put the ball in the hoop for the first six minutes while the Mustangs opened with an 11-0 run.
“They’re just physical; they’re strong. It kind of got to us early,” Crighton said. “They got out on our shooters quickly, they closed the lanes and it was tough. They battled, they’re a great team.”
After the stingy start, Marian kept a 10-point lead until the final minute of the third quarter, and stretched it even further with a 10-0 lead to make the score 41-21, despite being deliberate on offense.
“Once we got a decent lead, we’re not going to rush it, because you put the ball back in their hands if you take a bad shot,” Cicerone said. “My two key shooters were a little off in the first half and then we had the tendency to stand around, pouting about not making our shots instead of attacking. They kept getting wider and wider instead of attacking it, and when we did, we got some open looks from the outside, and just shot the ball better in the second half.”
Marian next faces Port Huron Northern in a quarterfinal at St. Clair Shores Lake Shore. A potential semi-final rematch with Farmington Hills Mercy looms if both win their games Tuesday, yet Bruton insists the Mustangs aren’t looking past their next opponent.
“If we don’t win this next game, there is no Mercy game,” she said, “so that kind of keeps it in perspective that we have to stay focused, and we have to keep getting better to get to that point.”