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No. 7 Mustangs rebound from first loss, handle Regina in tourney semifinals to earn seventh straight berth in CHSL A-B finals

No. 7 Mustangs rebound from first loss, handle Regina in tourney semifinals to earn seventh straight berth in CHSL A-B finals
BY: MATTHEW B. MOWERY Feb 20, 10:45pm

NOVI — When you’re coming off your biggest emotional test — and your first loss — of the season, facing a team you’ve beaten by 27 and 34 points can’t be an emotional charge for your squad.

That’s what No. 7 Birmingham Marian was facing in Wednesday’s Catholic League A-B tournament semifinals at Novi Detroit Catholic Central, taking on a five-win Warren Regina team it had rolled over in the Central Division regular-season.

“You would like to (dominate again), but that’s the problem when you beat somebody handily two times,” said Marian coach Mary Cicerone. “We didn’t come out in the press this time, and they did a little better job than they did the other two times. But that’s your nightmare. Are my kids going to say, ‘Oh, my gosh, we’re just playing Regina.’ That’s what you worry about. We played well enough to get a good lead today.”

The Mustangs (16-1) jumped out to a 14-0 lead on the Saddelites, then put it on cruise control, winning 52-30 to advance to the CHSL A-B finals for the seventh straight season.

“It’s always there. It’s always there. We talk about our goals at the beginning of the year, and the girls made their little sheet, and that’s one of them, to get here,” Cicerone said. “It’s not quite a success unless you do. We’ve had years where we didn’t win the Catholic League, and went on and had a great tournament run, but this is the start of the tournament.”

For the second straight year, the Mustangs will face Dearborn Divine Child (9-8) in the title game at University of Detroit Mercy’s Calihan Hall. Marian will be seeking its second straight crown, its fourth in five years, and its 17th overall.

Seven of those titles have come since the 2007-08 season, and the Mustangs have only missed the finals twice (2010-11 and 2011-12) in that 11-year span.

That early lead proved to be all the Mustangs would need, as they led 17-2 after one quarter, 28-14 at the half, and 43-21 after three quarters.

“They battled, but you can’t get down 14 points against them, and expect to come back. That was one of the things we talked about going in — we can’t get down again,” Regina coach Diane Laffey said. “We’ve lost to them three times now, and believe it or not, this was the closest one. Not that that’s much consolation. … They’re definitely very good, and they didn’t even have (freshman 6-footer Sara) Sylvester.”

Despite missing a couple of players under the weather, the Mustangs had plenty of offense, getting 13 points from Shannon Kennedy, 12 from Olivia Moore and 11 from Megan Kraus. Kathleen Novak led Regina with eight points.

“I had a couple of sickies sitting out,” Cicerone said. “It was good. You just want to win and move on to the next one.”

The Mustangs were moving on from their first loss of the season, a 57-51 setback against No. 1-ranked Detroit Edison that could’ve gone either way. Not only was it additional validation that the Mustangs below in the conversation for Division 1 contenders, it was a perfect way to build confidence right before a potential tournament run.

“You gotta play the best. You never know where you’re at. My girls were, I’m sure, very intimidated. No. 1 team in the state, No. 1 player of all time,” Cicerone said. “My kids stepped up, and we executed well. We didn’t shoot the ball as well as I’d like, but we made some big shots to keep us in the game. We choked a little bit when they came out at us in the third quarter a little bit, but we should’ve tied the game with 1:20 left, but we missed a layup. I was pleased that we kept our composure for most of the game. They were nervous. Their fans were nervous. We played a great game. I kept telling them ‘We can play with these guys, if you believe.’ We made a couple of mistakes early, but once we got it figured out, we played the defense we wanted to play. We did a good job — we could’ve won that game.”