They say if defense wins championships, then the Farmington Hills Mercy girls basketball team is on the right path.
The Marlins, who overcame a slow start leading only 5-4 after one quarter, used their signature half-court trap in the second and it propelled them to their first Class A regional crown since 2014 with a 35-14 victory Thursday night over Walled Lake Western in the finals at North Farmington.
With the victory, Mercy (22-3) advances to the state quarterfinals beginning at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 14 at Southfield against defending Class A champion Warren Cousino (23-2), which survived its regional final with a 41-39 overtime win over Bloomfield Hills Marian.
Related: Cousino needs OT to take down Marian
It was the half-court trap that tipped the scales in Mercy’s favor in a 47-42 regional semifinal win over Hartland and it was again the magic potion against Western, which bowed out with a 20-5 overall record.
“That’s been a good defense for us,” Morris said. “We rely on pressure, try and create turnovers to generate some offense, get some easy baskets. I think we execute it pretty well. I think other teams prepare for it because at this point there’s no secrets. Fortunately it was effective for us, especially in the regional. I thought we were solid defensively in everything we did. That was really good to see.”
The Marlins extended their lead to 20-10 at halftime and put the game away by outscoring the Warriors 12-2 in the third quarter.
“I don’t think it was’t really a secret that we’d come out with it, but it’s really how well they prepare to come out with it,” said Mercy junior guard Jenna Schluter of the half-court trap. “I think they just couldn’t find a way around it.”
Mercy went only 1-of-10 from the field in the opening quarter and made just 32.2 percent of its shots, but yet won by 21 points.
“It shows how good of a team we are that we can come out and not hit shots and still win by how much we won,” Schluter said. “I think we trust each other as a team. We’re a good defensive team and offensive team, but if we’re not good offensively, we can come out and play really good defense.”
Western made only 5-of-27 shots from the floor (18.5 percent) and committed 11 turnovers after having just six in a 48-42 regional semifinal win over Novi.
The Warriors’ leading scorer, junior guard Janara Flowers, finished with just three points.
“That was probably the best defensive effort that we’ve had put against us all year,” Western coach Skip Stevenson said of the Marlins. “They did the things that we like to pride ourselves on here. They played great defense and the credit goes to them. They won the game. They deserved this region, there’s no doubt about it.”
Mercy’s hero in the upset win over Hartland, senior guard Jackie Bauer, finished with a team-high nine points hitting three timely 3-pointers, two in the second quarter and one in the third.
“So far she’s been hitting ‘threes’ to start to the game,” Morris said of Bauer. “That wasn’t the case today, but then eventually you figure she’s going to hit shots and she did.”
Senior guard Chloe Godbold and Schluter each added eight points.
“I thought we had a number of players play really well,” Morris said. “I’m happy for this group. It’s been a hard working group. They really compete and it’s great to win a regional final.”
Mercy slowly dismantled Western, which had only four players score, led by sophomore guard Kailee Ford’s six pints.
“It was the same half-court trap that gave Hartland fits,” Stevenson said. “We looked at it and we thought we were going to be O.K. We wanted to attack it head-on-head. We rolled the dice with it We looked O.K. at times, but they made us pay every time. And what was worse is that we didn’t hit a shot. We needed to hit just a couple of them.”
Despite the loss, Stevenson was proud of the season the Warriors put together.
“Like I told them in there, I said, ‘Yes, it’s disappointing and would I have liked a better result? Absolutely,'” said Stevenson, who loses five seniors to graduation. “It’s tough, but it’s the whole body of work in the season. Twenty wins, won the (KLAA) North (Division), won the district and made the regional finals. I can leave here tonight being very content.”
Meanwhile, the Marlins will try and earn a spot in the state semifinals for the first time since 2014 with Cousino standing in the way.
“I so excited and I think our team works really hard,” Schluter said. “I think we deserve this and we’re all really excited.”