Riley Blair and herDivine Child teammates were too much for Hills Mercy to overcome Wednesday night in a Catholic League girls basketball semifinal game.
The senior guard scored a career-high 34 points to lead the Falcons to a 62-58 victory over the defending champion Marlins at Catholic Central High School.
“That’s the sign of a true gamer,” Divine Child coach Marysaid. “She and all these seniors had a goal to get back to Hall. They put their hearts and minds into it, and Riley was going to lead the way there.”
Senior guard Taylor Jones countered with 29 points for Mercy, which fell behind 24-8 at the start of the second quarter and could have been out of it early.
But the Marlins went to a full-court press in the second quarter and rallied to get within five at halftime, 31-26. Mercy juniorhit a three to begin the second half and make it a two-point game.
“A lot of credit goes to our kids,” Mercy coach Gary Morris said. “They fought back again and got it down to two, but we couldn’t quite get over that hump. It seemed when it was there they would make a play, and most of the time it was Riley making the play.
“It reminded me a lot of our first game (which the Falcons won). We were down 16-5 after the first quarter. We fought hard, but we could never get the lead. It was the same thing tonight. We were fighting uphill the whole time.”
The Falcons executed their press breaker well in the third quarter and made a 12-0 run to increase their lead to 45-31. It was 50-40 at the end of three.
Mercy was resilient once again. Seniorsank a three this time to start the fourth quarter, and sophomore Jackie Bauer scored on a turnaround bank shot to make it 50-45.
The Falcons pulled ahead to a 57-49 advantage, but the Marlins got within three points twice in the final minute.
A drive to the basket by Jones made it 60-58 with 11 seconds left. The Marlins had to foul and sent Blair to the line for a pair of victory-clinching free throws at the end.
“That’s the character of our team,” Morris said. “We’re not going to give up and we didn’t. But against a quality team you just can’t spot them a double-digit lead, and we did it twice.
“That’s a quality (Divine Child) team. I told the kids, ‘We’ve lost four games, but we’ve lost to two good teams twice. There’s no shame in that.'”
Morris added Jones is a very special player for the Marlins, especially in terms of her ability to score, and Blair was every bit the same for the Falcons.
Each scored 16 points in the first half. Blair, whose previous single-game best was 28, had 12 and Jones nine in the third quarter. Blair also was 11-of-15 shooting free throws, Jones 7-of-9.
“Those are two very good players,” Morris said, adding Jones will play at Oakland University and Blair at Ferris State University. “They say big players make big plays in big games, and both of them did that.”
Blair also had the job of guarding Jones for most of the game except for a short time after Blair got a second foul.
“Taylor is a phenomenal player but, withlength, she has a little bit harder time,” said. “When Riley picked up her second, I wanted to make a switch temporarily, because I couldn’t take her off the floor. I had to get her length back on Taylor to add some pressure.”
Senior guardCase, who made three three-point field goals in the first quarter to help Divine Child to an 18-8 lead, was the next highest scorer with 12 points.
“She’s such a great shooter,” Blair said. “She has one of the most beautiful shots I’ve ever seen. For her to hit those three shots in a row was unreal. It was very big for us.”
Senior forwards Hannahand Maureen Butler scored eight and six points for the Falcons, respectively.
“One of our main goals was our inside game, and I think we were getting it in there a lot more than we did in past games,” Blair said.
“The defense had to collapse and guard our big posts, and we got a lot of open looks as guards. We were really grateful for our posts, and they played a heck of a game.”
and Bauer scored seven points apiece for Mercy; senior Sierra Wangler added six. The Marlins were 12-of-15 at the foul line, the Falcons 16-of-25. Both teams are 14-4.
Divine Child will play Bloomfield Hills Marian, the top-ranked team in Class A, for the championship at 3. Sunday at the University of Detroit Mercy.
“It’s disappointing,” Morris said, regarding the Marlins not being in this year’s final. “We’ve had a pretty nice run. It’s not easy to get there, but we’ve been there three of the previous four years and won twice.
“We’re aware of what Marian is about, but we still wanted to get there and play in that championship game.”