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Deja vu: Divine Child beats Mercy again in Catholic League A-B semis, moves on to face Marian in finals

By: Matthew B. Mowery, February 20, 2019, 11:45 pm

NOVI — At tournament time, there’s no substitute for experience.

That’s what paid off for Dearborn Divine Child in Wednesday’s Catholic League A-B tournament semifinal, as they shot their way past Farmington Hills Mercy to earn a second-straight title-game appearance.

Divine Child (9-8) scored the final 12 points of the third quarter, and weathered the storm when Mercy (13-5) put on the press in an attempt to get back in it in the fourth, holding on for a 54-43 win.

Just like last year, the Falcons shrugged off two losses to the Marlins in the Central Division regular season to win in the tournament. And just like last year, they’ll move on to face No. 7-ranked Birmingham Marian (16-1) in the finals at Calihan Hall on Saturday.

“Same set-up. Exactly the same set-up, because we had lost the two regular-season games to Mercy, and beat them here. Like a little bit of deja vu,” said Divine Child coach Mary Laney. “I think Marian’s a great team, and I just hope we’re really hungry. We have nothing to lose. We’re the underdogs, have nothing to lose. We’ve both been in this position before, so hopefully we can play 32 minutes and pull out the upset. … Leave it all out there, play 32 minutes, and go get it.”

The Falcons were 5-5 after the first run through the Central, but about two games into the second go-round was when things started to click for them, Laney said.

In the second trip through the league, Divine Child lost to Mercy by two (49-47), Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard by one (34-33) and Marian by three (48-45).

“We’re playing really good basketball, right at the right time. We’re finally starting to play a complete game, 32 minutes. We were not doing that in January,” Laney said. “We’re just really buckling down on defense, getting stops when we need to, and finishing a lot better. … We have more balanced scoring, and our defense is really what’s sparked us the last several games. … The last couple of weeks, we’ve started to play 32 minutes, and that’s made a big difference, that we can finish games, and play all four quarters.”

It also helped that the Falcons shot well enough to get the Marlins to try to mix it up on defense, then eventually broke Mercy’s pressure, as well.

“Somewhat similar, just like they did last year, I thought they shot the ball really well. We’ve been shooting the ball well, but tonight we didn’t. It seemed like we were fighting uphill most of the time,” Mercy coach Gary Morris said. “I thought to start the game, we were tight, and that’s why I went to the full-court pressure. I thought that loosened us up a little bit. We turned them over a little bit. But that’s a tough way to play, to say you’re going to go 94 feet the whole game against them, because they handle the ball well, and they’re a veteran team.”

When Morris switched on the pressure in the second quarter, it led to a couple of turnovers, but the Falcons quickly re-calibrated, and began beating it cleanly enough that the Marlins took it off again, keeping it in their back pockets until the fourth.

“Basketball is a game of runs, and this game really proved that. Their press in the second quarter there really made us struggle,” Laney said. “We had not seen a press in a couple of weeks, so we’d talked about it in practice the last two days, but I think it was just a little bit of shell-shock at first. Then once we gained our composure, and actually ran our press-breaker, we had high-percentage shots.”

The two teams traded 3-pointers early in the third quarter, but just as quickly as they’d heated up, the Marlins went cold, and Divine Child wasted no time stretching a 34-32 lead out to 43-32 headed to the fourth. The Falcons scored the first eight points of the fourth quarter, leading 49-32 before the Marlins began to claw their way back.

“That’s a tough hole to climb out of,” Morris said. “I think the thing that helps for them, versus us, is they have those two seniors (Elena Welker and Maddie Rzepka), a four-year varsity player and a three-year varsity player. We’re playing most of the time with sophomores on the floor. There’s no substitute for all those extra games played.

“And then their other senior, (Hanah) Zuk played well, too. We know that Rzepka and Welker are tough players, and they were.”

Julia Bishop had 15 points to lead Mercy before fouling out with 2:55 left, while Alexis Roberts had 14 points. Welker finished with a game-high 20 points, while Rzepka had 13, and Brianna McCormick had eight.