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Detroit Catholic Central survives second-half surge from Loyola in CHSL semis, makes it back to Calihan for first time in seven seasons

By: Matthew B. Mowery, February 13, 2019, 11:00 pm

BLOOMFIELD HILLS — Consider it a preview of what’s in store for the Shamrocks on Saturday.

Novi Detroit Catholic Central built a 24-point lead in Wednesday’s Catholic League A-B semifinal at Birmingham Marian, only to have Detroit Loyola crank up the defensive pressure and intensity in the second half, getting the game within a missed shot of single digits again, before CC could close out a 74-58 win.

The victory sends the No. 6-ranked Shamrocks (13-3, 6-2 CHSL Central) to the Catholic League finals at University of Detroit Mercy’s Calihan Hall for the first time in seven seasons, pitting them against top-ranked Detroit U-D Jesuit (16-2, 8-0).

And the Cubs are going to do much the same to the Shamrocks as Loyola did in the second half — press, press, press.

“Oh, my gosh. For me, it’s special. My first year here, and to get a chance to play at Calihan again, with a lot at stake. It’s going to be a great atmosphere for our school. I haven’t brushed up on my history, the last time CC got a chance to play for a Catholic League, and who better to play than U of D?” said Shamrocks coach Brandon Sinawi, in his first season on the bench at CC after coming over from Novi. “For me personally, it’s a special thing, but it’s great for our seniors. They have put in the work, our team has put in the work. We’re playing for our seniors, and we’ve talked about that. Everybody is playing for our 12th graders.

“So we’re going to put it all on the line Saturday night, and hopefully get to hoist something we haven’t gotten to in a while.”

The last time the Shamrocks made it to Calihan was the 2011-12 season, when they won their first CHSL A-B title in 15 seasons. Before that, they’d lost six in six straight title-game appearances since taking the 1996-97 trophy back to their home in Redford at the time.

The Cubs have won six straight A-B titles, and are looking for a seventh, and Sinawi knows exactly how they’ll attack the Shamrocks.

“We have to manage the press. We’re going to have to manage their full-court press. They’re going to run and jump us, and we know that. So if we can manage that, and execute and get to the basket, and score underneath the rim, I think we’re going to be in good shape. Now obviously, we’re going to have to stop them offensively, too. Every position there, there’s college talent, it seems like. They’re well-coached,” the CC coach said. “We’ll be ready. We’ll be prepared. We’ve got film, we’ll break things down and — hey, we’re excited to be there, but we’re not ‘just excited to be there.’ We’re looking to win the game.”

To get there, though, they had to play a scrappy Loyola squad (11-6) that finally got to play its own game in the second half, erasing the lead of two dozen the Shamrocks had built up in the first half.

“We’re a team that plays pressure defense, and I think we came out real timid, due to their size. We didn’t attack the basket. Our defensive, emotional leader picks up two cheap fouls right off the bat, and they take us out of our game plan. I would’ve loved to pick up those fouls when we were attacking,” said Loyola coach Dennis Morey of senior Dylan Hemphill picking up two fouls in the game’s first 23 seconds.

“We saw what we’re capable of, when we have an opportunity. We were playing an uphill battle, one, with our size disadvantage, and then when they’re not going to let us be physical, it’s hard. If you’re not going to let the smaller team try to battle for a win, it’s going to be a tough road, but I loved the fight of my guys. The second half was outstanding. That’s why we played so much better the second half — they let the kids play, and get after it.”

CC led by 24 points, 36-12, in the final seconds of the first half, but that’s when the Shamrocks first got an inkling of what was coming after the break.

“I think they tipped it off right at the end of the second quarter, when we turned it over. We knew they were going to come out and be aggressive, and hats off to them, because they ran it really well. They ran and jumped us, and we weren’t mentally ready for it. We knew what we wanted to do, but we didn’t go out and execute. Just careless turnovers, careless passes. We weren’t coming to passes. Our passes were soft, and they were aggressive — whenever you have soft and aggressive, the aggressive one is going to win every time,” Sinawi said. “But our guys fought through it. We got to the basket. We knew they were going to give us some layups if they wanted to run that, and as long as we kept punching back, the lead that we had, it was going to make it tough for them to come back.”

After a back-and-forth third quarter saw the Bulldogs shave just five points off the 23-point halftime deficit, Loyola really cranked it up to start the fourth, cutting the deficit down to 10 points, 61-51, with just less than five minutes to play.

“We got it down to 10, got a steal, and got an open 3, and it didn’t fall, and I thought that kind of deflated us. Just went back to even ball, right there,” Morey said. “Different story, I think, if we hit that, and I get a timeout, I think it’s a different story.”

The Bulldogs had also expended a great deal of energy cutting the deficit as far as they did.

And, with the Shamrocks continuing to get layups of their own, moving the goalposts just that much further, math said it was going to be hard for the Bulldogs to come all the way back, considering how deep the hole had been.

“We knew that, but we weren’t going to lay down and allow it to happen. It got to 10, and we said ‘All right, if we’re going to sit here let them to get to the basket, we’re going to have to continue to get to the basket. And we took advantage of the opportunities we had. There were a lot of layups in the fourth quarter, down the stretch,” Sinawi said. “I was talking to my staff, and we knew they were probably going to run out of gas, and it looked like they did in the last couple of minutes of the game.”

After Loyola got it to 10, CC scored the next six points, and 13 of the final 20 in the game to pull away again.

Brendan Downs and Davis Lukomski had 19 points each for CC, while Justin Rukat had 12. Loyola had four players in double figures, led by Mark Mayberry’s 14. Hemphill and Javionne Thompson had 13 each, while Cam Hudson had all of his 12 in the second half.