FARMINGTON HILLS >> Entering Tuesday’s showdown with Birmingham Marian, which featured a pair of unbeaten division rivals, Farmington Hills Mercy coach Gary Morris knew exactly the narrative his team was up against.
“It makes it more of a rivalry when we win a game. You know how that goes,” Morris said, citing his team’s 0-4 record versus Marian over the past two seasons. “If one side is winning all the time, it’s not really a rivalry.”
But following Tuesday’s result, it’s safe to say the two teams’ Catholic League Central Division tug-of-war has been renewed. Mercy shook free from Marian’s recent stranglehold on the series to record a 46-34 win, leading nearly from start to finish and saving its best for the fourth quarter.
“(This season), we wanted to put Mercy basketball back on the map,” Morris said.
With her Marlins clinging to a tenuous two-point lead early in the final quarter, Mercy junior Julia Bishop took control of the proceedings the rest of the way. Bishop knocked down 9-of-10 free throws over the last seven minutes, and drained her team’s only 3-pointer of the night with 4:18 remaining to make it 39-32.
“She’s sick. She’s battling a cold, but I told her sometimes when you get the sweat going and you get into the flow of the game, adrenaline takes over,” Morris said of Bishop. “She’s a great foul shooter and she had those kinds of nights last year at times.”
Bishop finished with a game-high 19 points, including a remarkable 16-of-18 shooting from the foul line.
“Whenever I’m mentally out of it, I like to get to the free throw line to be able to regain my confidence a little bit, so being able knock that three down, my confidence was really high after that,” she said.
In addition to a poor shooting night overall, Marian was marred by foul trouble, which forced standout sophomore Sara Sylvester to sit out long stretches of the game before she fouled out with 3:17 to play.
The Mustangs, ranked third in Division 1, were outscored 14-4 to end the game, resulting in their first loss of the season.
Neither team got off to a strong start Tuesday, as giveaways outnumbered baskets in the early stages. Mercy held a 22-19 lead at halftime thanks largely to a strong showing by junior Maddie Kenney, who carried the scoring load and finished with 17 points.
“Obviously, we weren’t happy at the half with all of the turnovers. I thought both teams came out really nervous. It was a turnover-fest early on,” Morris said. “In the second half we took better care of the basketball, which was big. I thought we defended really hard the entire night. A lot of different players stepped up defensively.”
Without a senior on the roster, Tuesday’s victory over Marian was a first for each of Mercy’s players.
“It’s amazing. I know since I’ve been here, I have yet to beat them in basketball,” Bishop said. “It’s such a great feeling. We’ve lost to them by 20 (points), we’ve lost to them by 30, and to finally be able to be on the upside of that by 12, it feels great.”
The Mustangs (5-1, 1-1) were led offensively by junior Shannon Kennedy’s 10 points. Sylvester added eight.
The two teams will meet again at Marian on Jan. 28.