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GIRLS BASKETBALL: Mercy bags one for the ages, shocks rival Marian at buzzer to claim Catholic League title

By: Scott Burnstein, February 17, 2014, 8:00 am

DETROIT – There was magic in the air at historic Calihan Hall on the campus of the University of Detroit-Mercy Sunday afternoon.

Doing their best impression of a bunch of now-you-see-me, now-you-don’t crafty cage magicians, the Farmington Hills Mercy Marlins stunned Birmingham Marian on the last play of the A-B Division Catholic League Girls Basketball Finals, when junior forward Taylor Jones stole an inbounds pass under her team’s own basket and laid the ball in for a buzzer-beating bank-shot to win it 55-54.

The pulse-pounding final sequence capped a furious Mercy rally, which saw the Marlins come back from an eight-point deficit in the closing three and a half minutes.

Sunday was the third time in the past six weeks the two powerhouse Class A hoop squads and rivals squared off. While Marian (17-2) snagged victory in the first contest in early January, Mercy (18-1) has now captured the last two straight over its’ arch-nemesis.

Each club has only lost to the other this whole winter.

Mercy’s crowning on Sunday was the program’s first league title in three years and the game had a storybook ending.

After Marlins all-league senior floor general, Candace Leatherwood nailed a pair of free throws with 3.5 seconds remaining to make it a one-point game at 54-53 and a Mercy timeout to set the defense, the long-armed and athletic Jones (8 points, 7 rebounds) was positioned in front of the Marian in-bounder.

Tracing her opponent’s every move, using her extreme width and high vertical jump to alter her vision, Jones practically swiped the pass and converted her game-winner in one fell swoop.

“I knew I had to somehow make a play or do something that would allow one of my teammates to,” she said. “We barely had any time, we had to do whatever we could. I blocked the pass and it wound up in my lap. Then I looked up and nobody was there, only the rim. I could barely believe it. I just reacted, put it back up and everyone went crazy. This is so amazing. It’s one of the best moments of my life.”

Leatherwood, signed with Liberty University for her college hoops, was the game’s high-scorer, tallying 18 points.

She was all smiles when her team was accepting their Catholic League championship medals, crediting Jones’ “crazy monkey arms” with turning the Marlins’ fortunes around.

“Taylor is always flailing around with those long arms, smacking me all the time in practice, so I know what kind of damage they can do,” said a laughing Leatherwood.

Mercy trailed for most of the game, behind 31-25 at halftime and 39-37 after three quarters of action.

A 3 by Marian junior forward Kara Holinski with 3:55 left gave the Mustangs a 47-39 advantage and had the Marlins reeling.

However, Mercy wouldn’t say die and came swinging off the proverbial ropes.

Leatherwood’s two free throws with 3:15 left jumpstarted the comeback and her drive and dish to teammate Sam Bauer (8 points) for a bucket in the paint and another pair from the charity stripe made it a two-point game, 49-47 at the 1:08 mark of the fourth.

Free throws from Sierra La Grande (10 points) and Allie Gorcyca kept the Marlins alive and kicking heading down the stretch and leading up to the game’s final ticks.

Brittany Gray topped the scoring chart for Marian, notching a team-high 13 points. Holinski had 12 points and eight rebounds.