Warren Cousino holds off Farmington Hills Mercy to advance to Class A semifinals for second straight year
Southfield – Entering this season, Warren Cousino, the defending Class A state champions, set the goal of again making a return trip to the Breslin Center in East Lansing and winning a second straight title.
On Tuesday night against Farmington Hills Mercy, Cousino punched its ticket to head back to the girls basketball semifinals at the Breslin Center as the Patriots jumped out to a comfortable first quarter lead and held off a late push from Mercy and hung on for a 47-41 win in a Class A quarterfinal at Southfield A&T high school.
In the Class A semifinals, Cousino (24-2) will face Flushing (22-3) on Friday afternoon at 1:00pm. Flushing topped Macomb Dakota 59-28 in its Class A quarterfinal on Tuesday night.
Cousino head coach Mike Lee said that while his team has been challenged in its past two games, this is what the Patriots expected during their title defense and added that they are excited to head back to East Lansing, two wins away from a second straight title.
“I don’t know if anybody thinks they’re going to have a 20-point win in the quarterfinal,” he said. “You know you’re going to have to gut it out, you know you’re going to have to exchange shots. I’m so proud of them from last week to this week, our mission at the beginning of the year was to at least get back to the Breslin and we’re there.”
After Cousino pushed its lead back to 11 at the start of the fourth quarter, Mercy cut the deficit down to 39-33 after five straight points from freshman Jess Mruzik, Cousino would try pulling away again after a basket from Kierra Fletcher, who finished runner up for the Miss Basketball Award to put the Patriots ahead, 48-35.
But Mercy (22-4) would make one final push, eventually cutting the deficit down to just four with three minutes left to play after baskets from Chloe Godbold and Jenna Schluter to cut the Cousino lead down to 45-41.
Mercy head coach Gary Morris said that he was pleased with the way his team battled back in the fourth quarter, but the slow start and 11-point deficit after three quarters proved to be too much.
“We had scouted them and (McArhur) we know is going to shoot the three – she hadn’t been hitting three’s – but unfortunately for us, the first one she takes tonight goes in,” he said. “We were down so much at the end of the first quarter, to come back against a team like that, with (Fletcher), that’s tough to do.”
However, Cousino’s defense, led by Fletcher, would stand tall in the closing minutes as the Georgia Tech-commit recorded her sixth block and drew a foul at the other end, and made both free throws to all but put the game away.
Fletcher, who finished with a game-high 19 points, 14 rebounds, seven assists, six steals and five blocks, said the difference late in the game was Cousino’s ability to continue pushing the pace against Mercy’s trap defense.
“We knew that they wanted to slow the game down,” she said. “Our team really isn’t built for a slow paced game, we like to push the ball. So I think once we started pushing the ball, instead of just settling and letting them trap us.”
Cousino started out the game with a 12-4 run, which began with a Kate McArthur 3-poiner on Cousino’s opening possession and with the help of nine points in the first quarter from Fletcher, the Patriots led 18-7 going into the second quarter.
Fletcher said that she felt the start of the game was key for herself and her teammates and noted that they emphasized speeding up the pace of the game against Mercy.
‘It was very important,” she said. “We knew they were a very good team and that they’d try and slow the tempo, so we wanted to push the ball because we knew they hadn’t played anyone that to our speed.”
Lee said that for this year’s Cousino team, there have been several players who continue to step up in big spots for the Patriots, which included McArthur’s strong play in the first half.
“Kate was on with her shot early, finding the right people, other people stepping up and hitting big shots,” he said. “I think that’s what makes us special, when certain people are off, we have the trust in others to make plays and in that first quarter, it was pretty evident.”