ORCHARD LAKE — St. Mary’s Prep continues to be the talk of the state high school basketball world.
Coming off a lackluster regular season with a 13-10 (2-5 CHSL Central Division) record, the rejuvenated Eaglets have won four straight games in the Michigan High School Athletic Association playoffs to advance to the quarterfinal stage for the third year in a row.
Opening with a 57-47 decision against neighbor West Bloomfield, St. Mary’s came up against a pair of formidable, familiar Catholic League foes.
Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice had won its first Central Division title since 1996, its first Catholic League championship since 1990 and the “Operation Friendship” encounter against then-No. 1-ranked Detroit Cass Tech. The Warriors were on the road to the school’s first state championship since 1974.
Beware when traveling, even figuratively, on the road in Michigan. In the district title game, Brother Rice hit a pothole against St. Mary’s, who put together a 13-2 rally in the last four minutes for a 57-50 upset.
“These kids have a chip on their shoulder right now,” Eaglets coach Todd Covert said.
The intensity of the regional semifinal match between OLSM and University of Detroit Jesuit brought back memories of the encounter between them in early January, a 67-64 overtime game that tipped off on a humid Friday evening, was suspended because of unplayable slick court conditions, and resumed at 10 a.m. Saturday morning.
The Eaglets won that one, and they prevailed in this one, 72-69, but not until a pair of Cubs desperation shots threatening OT again clanked off the rim in the waning seconds.
Said Covert: “They play for each other. It’s what you have to do this time of year.”
Last Wednesday evening before more than 1,900 fans at Troy High School, St. Mary’s and No. 3-ranked North Farmington (22-2) met in a long-anticipated rematch of a game a year ago when the Eaglets knocked the Raiders out of the playoffs. North Farmington led 26-17 at the half.
In the first four minutes of the third quarter, the Eaglets tied the score at 28-28. The comeback started when junior Daniel Smythe was hacked attempting a triple. He converted three free throws, and junior center Mason Wisniewski followed with a basket and a pair of free throws.
The game was tied three more times, the last at 34-34 heading into the fourth quarter.
A 25-foot triple by sophomore Trey McKenney put St. Mary’s in front, 39-36, at 5:13, a lead they held en route to a 56-44 victory and the regional trophy.
St. Mary’s made 20 of 20 free throws. McKenney scored 16 of his game-high (and his playoffs average) 26 points in the second half. Freshman guard Sharod Barnes chipped in 11, Wisniewski 8, Andrew Smith 6 and Smythe 5.
“Trey said it perfectly about two weeks ago: ‘It’s time to start playing for our school and protecting who we are,’” Covert said.
The Eaglets move on to the quarterfinals at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 21, at the University of Detroit Mercy’s Calihan Hall. They’ll face another Central Division opponent, Warren De La Salle (17-8).
It was a day short of a year ago that the two teams met in a similar circumstance. The Pilots nipped the Eaglets 49-48 at the buzzer and proceeded onward to their first-ever state basketball championship.
St. Mary’s also lost in the quarterfinals two years ago to eventual state champ Grand Blanc. The Eaglets have four state titles but none since 2000.
Free throws played a major role in De La Salle’s regional title game. They scored their last 12 points on free throws to beat Grosse Pointe South 62-58. Sophomore guard Phoenix Glassnor scored 30 points.
The Pilots’ playoff wins lack the drama of St. Mary’s wins. They beat Warren Woods Tower 68-52, Hamtramck 57-41 and Harrison L’Anse Creuse 76-36. That assuredly will change when they clash again.
The winner advances to the semifinal against the winner of Muskegon (24-2) and East Lansing (16-9) at 2 p.m. March 24 at Michigan State’s Breslin Center.
The other Division 1 games pit Ann Arbor Huron (23-2) vs. Cass Tech (25-1) and Grand Blanc (24-3) vs. Rochester Adams (17-8).
The state championship final will be played at 12:15 p.m., Saturday, March 25, at the Breslin Center.
Loyola a quarterfinalist
Detroit Loyola (25-1), season-long ranked on top of Division 3, will meet Flint Beecher (21-4) at 7 p.m., Tuesday, March 21, at Waterford Mott High School in the MHSAA quarterfinals.
The winner will play either Laingsburg (25-0) or Ecorse (19-4) in a semifinal at noon March 23 at the Breslin Center.
The other teams still in contention are St. Ignace (22-4) vs. Traverse City St. Francis (22-4) and Pewamo-Westphalia (19-6) vs. Niles Brandywine (24-2). The state final will be at 4:30 p.m. March 25 at Breslin Center.
The Bulldogs, who won the CHSL Intersectional 1 division and the Catholic League Cardinal Division trophy, overcame a 10-point halftime deficit to beat Detroit Edison, 61-52, to reach the quarterfinals. Ryan Martin had 20 points and Jonathan Nweke 19.
Loyola won playoff games against Detroit Jalen Rose 74-46, Madison Heights Madison 70-44, and New Haven 50-43.
Cardinal Mooney a quarterfinalist
Marine City Cardinal Mooney qualified for a Division 4 quarterfinal spot by beating Genesee Christian 57-44, the same team that a year ago knocked the Cardinals out of the playoffs.
Cardinal Mooney will play No. 6-ranked Taylor Trillium Academy (21-3) at 7 p.m., March 21, at West Bloomfield High School. Mooney last made it to the state finals in 2011, a 66-56 loss to Muskegon Western Michigan Christian.
Cardinal Mooney won playoff games against Chesterfield Austin 75-21, Auburn Hills Oak Christian 63-44, and Clarkston Everest Collegiate 44-39.
Contact Don Horkey at [email protected]