Bloomfield Hills, Farmington HillsMarch 12, 2014
Mercy and Marian set to meet for the fourth time, with a trip to the finals on the line
By Mike Moore
C & G Sports Writer
From one city to the next, they’ve met.
From deciding regular season matches to a league title, they’ve battled.
And on Friday, for the fourth and final time, their paths cross yet again.
Had it not been for one another, the Farmington Hills Mercy and Bloomfield Hills Marian basketball teams would have unblemished records at this point.
But at this point, records might as well be thrown out the window as the Catholic League powerhouses prepare for Friday’s tilt at the Breslin Center, with a spot in the Class A state final riding on the line.
“The kids are fired up. This is a big thing,” Marian coach Mary Cicerone said of her team playing in the state semifinals. “I’ve been coaching for 31 years, and it’s only the seventh time we’ve gone. It’s not that common. As a player, I never got to go. So, we have to go there, enjoy the moment, and work as hard as we can.”
As for playing Mercy?
“You have to be proud that two teams from the same league are at this spot,” she added.
“We’re happy to be there, and it happens to be a team we’re familiar with and who is familiar with us,” Mercy coach Gary Morris said of facing Marian. “I don’t think there will be many surprises. It’s a game that comes down to who plays better on that given day.”
As the two teams prepare for the game, set for 2:50 p.m., there’s not much either can hide, or too many tricks to put up the sleeve.
They met twice in the regular season — Marian winning the first 57-54 and Mercy taking the second 40-38 — and then faced off in the Catholic League championship game at the University of Detroit Mercy, a 55-54 Mercy win that came down to the final seconds of play.
To put how even the teams are in perspective, take a quick look at the combined score from the three meetings — 149-149.
Or consider their records.
Marian, 23-2, with its only losses to Mercy.
Mercy, 25-1, and yes, only loss coming to Marian.
“I don’t think it’s a fluke how close the games were,” said Morris, as Mercy is in the semifinal for the first time since 1991. “When you look at it, these are two pretty darn even teams.”
The playoff journey to this point has been a dominant one for Marian, a team that’s gotten to the Breslin by winning its five playoff games by an average of 23.6 points.
Mercy, on the other hand, cruised through its district before having to beat two of the top-ranked teams in Class A — Grosse Pointe South (22-2) and Detroit Martin Luther King (20-2) — in back-to-back regional games.
“I think the games we played last week had a lot to do with how we played here tonight,” Morris said after his team beat Romulus High 64-27 in a quarterfinal. “To get past those two teams in one week really gave us a lot of confidence.”
So, what will be key? Or, what will set one team apart and onto the final?
“I think both teams are going to have to stay out of foul trouble,” Cicerone said, Marian is in the semi’s for the first time since 1998. “It will probably come down to whoever defends the best and has a little bit more offense when its needed most.”
Marian will also have to be prepared for a Mercy press, and defensive pressure, that forced Romulus into 36 turnovers Tuesday night.
“We know them, and they know us,” Cicerone said. “We’ll be ready for that press. We know how deadly turnovers can be.”
“If you’re looking at it as a coach, or as someone who’s been to all three games, you’d expect another good one,” Morris said. “I think, in the end, it comes down to a couple kids, or one kid, that makes a real big play or a couple big plays. Maybe it’s a big shot or a couple rebounds or something. You never really know. The main thing we’ve talked to our girls about is enjoying all this. Enjoying their time there, and make the most of it.”
The game’s winner faces Canton High (21-4) or Grand Ledge High (24-2) at 12 p.m. Saturday in the championship.