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Young Marian blows past Grosse Pointe North in fourth at Calihan Challenge

By: Scott Burnstein, December 8, 2018, 10:30 pm

DETROIT – Burning rubber in the fourth quarter, Birmingham Marian raced past Grosse Pointe North 60-47 in the nightcap of the third-annual Calihan Challenge Saturday down on the campus of the University of Detroit-Mercy.

The Mustangs put together a knee-buckling 19-0 run to open the game’s final stanza and floored North with their giant knockout blow of a late scoring surge in the battle of two heavyweights in Division 1.

Junior shooting guard Sophia Mancini spearheaded Marian’s arsenal, connecting on 5-of-6 triples on her way to a team-high 18 points and containing North superstar Julia Ayrault, a 6-foot-2 forward and Miss Basketball candidate inked with Michigan State, on defense. Ayrault, who led the Norsemen to the Class A final four as a junior last winter, sheeted a game-high 23 points in the loss Saturday, but was bottled up by Mancini in the first five minutes of the fourth and couldn’t get free in the half-court set to answer Marian’s fierce and frenzied rally.

North (1-1) was in control for the first 24 minutes of the contest, on top 25-22 at the break and 39-34 after three quarters of action, never trailing. Mancini’s 3-point bomb from the left wing at the 6:54 mark of the fourth quarter provided Marian its first lead of the game.

Scoring 13 fast points in less than three minutes to kick off the quarter, the Mustangs didn’t take their foot off the accelerator the rest of the way. Mancini finished off her club’s crunch-time blitz by nailing a runner in the lane and her final 3-pointer of the affair from the right baseline on consecutive possessions for a 53-39 Marian advantage with 2:50 to go.

“Shooters shoot the ball when they’re given the chance, I’m always ready to let it fly. I don’t think, I just put it up,” said Mancini of her net torching antics Saturday. “My teammates trusted me to get it done from the outside today and I’m happy I was able to deliver.”

Marian’s contingent of underclassmen was crucial to the victory, as sophomore forward Shannon Kennedy fired in 12 of her 14 points in the second half and freshman forward Sara Sylvester tallied 13 points and eight rebounds. Two free throws from Sylvester started things off in the fourth and on the Mustangs next possession Kennedy’s 3 from the corner tied the game 39-39.

“The young girls are playing pretty tough, they’re giving us some great minutes,” longtime Marian coach Mary Cicerone said. “Shannon and Sara found a couple soft spots in North’s defense and took advantage. Sophia’s shooting was opening up the middle, Shannon and Sara got in there and played their tails off in the second half.”

Ayrault gave props to the young pups, too.

“They made a big difference, those girls are tall and long and really good at what they do,” she said. “We lost focus there in the fourth quarter and it cost us. We want this kind of competition early though. These kind of games make you better when you reach March.”

Cicerone apparently agrees with Ayrault because Marian (2-0) tipped the season against Macomb Area Conference power Warren Cousino and gets LVC titan Waterford Kettering next Tuesday for its third game of the campaign.

The Calihan Challenge, created by the Catholic League, has CHSL squads face off with teams from the MAC. Marian won the Catholic League last season and a Class A district before falling in the regionals to quarterfinal-bound Clarkston. Cicerone’s Mustangs are 3-0 in the Calihan Challenge, taking care of Cousino the last two years in double-digit fashion.