BASKETBALL: Saline Girls Win Their Second Straight District Championship

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Saline defeated Belleville, 64-32 to capture the MHSAA girls basketball district championship, Friday. Saline (17-1) advances to face Brighton (15-3) in the regional final at 7:30 p.m., Monday at Northville High School.

It was Saline's second consecutive district title, the first time the Hornets have accomplished that feat since 2001 and 2002.

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Saline shook off shooting struggles early in the first quarter and bounced back from an early 9-4 deficit en route to victory.

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Senior captain Ella Stemmer struggled to put the feeling into words.

"There are no words for that feeling. My teammates and I, even before the buzzer, we were so excited to win it, back to back, and to do it on hour home court, it means everything," Stemmer said.

Junior Sophie Canen also struggled to find the words.

"Amazing. We got to do this last year and I've been a part of this team for three years. To be able to do this back to back - it just feels so good," Canen said. "I can't put it into that words - that feeling at the end of the game when you're all running out there. It's just amazing."

The Hornets took a few moments to celebrate with each other, with family and with a few alumni in the crowd after the victory.

"It's unreal. I'm so elated. It feels surreal. It almost feels like I've left my body and I'm stepping back and watching this amazing moment," Saline head coach Leigh Ann Roehm said. 

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Roehm obviously had plans to build a successful program when she took command of the team four years ago. Still, getting it done is another story. She credited her team for getting it done.

"It just seemed so far out four years ago. From my first year, four years ago, to being back-to-back champs seems unreal," Roehm said. "The reason it happened is the young women who've committed to doing the work, committed to improving, and who have invested in each other and the culture. I couldn't be prouder of them."

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Ella Stemmer led the way with 24 points, 10 rebounds, four steals and five assists. Sophie Cane scored 16 points, grabbed five rebounds, had four steals and three assists. Kate Stemmer scored 12 points, grabbed seven rebounds and had two steals and two assists.

Early in the game, the Hornet shooters struggled. They were down 6-2, and had missed every shot they'd taken (outside of Canen's free throws). Kate Stemmer scored Saline's first field goal to cut the lead to two, but Belleville replied with a three-pointer to make it 9-4 with 3:40 to play in the quarter. By this point, Ella Stemmer had missed several three-point attempts. So, she started taking the game inside.

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"The shot wasn't falling, but that's not something you can always control, so I had to do other things to benefit my team," Stemmer said.

She scored three layups in a row and added a free throw. Saline took an 11-9 lead into the second quarter and then Stemmer made two more shots in the paint early in the second.

"Ella Stemmer does Ella Stemmer things," Roehm said. "She's a tough matchup. If you put someone big on her, she can usually take them off the dribble. If you put someone little on her you can get her in the post. We called some plays to get her in the post, but so much of that was her seizing the big moment."

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The Saline comeback was aided by a defense that held the Tigers to just a three-pointer and layup in the final 11:41 of the first half.

"Solid defense kept us in it. After they score their first two buckets I felt we did a much better job on the drive and a much better job getting to the glass," Roehm said. "We just kept getting stops. I feel so confident in this team and the way they shoot the ball, I know it's just a matter of time before the shots started falling."

Saline led 15-11 after Stemmer's first two baskets of the second quarter. Then Kate Stemmer took a pass from Natalie Sweetland and hit a three from 10 o'clock. Saline led 19-11.

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Belleville replied with a three-pointer to cut the lead to four, but the Hornets finished the quarter with an 8-0 run. Canen and Stemmer scored and then Ella Stemmer converted two steals into layups.

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Saline took a 26-14 lead into halftime. Canen erupted for 11 points in the third quarter to help the Hornets put the game out of reach. She converted a pass from Ella Stemmer for the first score of the quarter. After two Belleville free throws, Canen hit a three-pointer.

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Stemmer followed with her own three-pointer and Saline led 34-16.

Stemmer and Canen added to their totals to increase Saline's lead. Emily Wilczynski hit a three-pointer late in the third to make it 45-18. Saline led 45-21 going into the fourth.

The Hornets kept adding to their lead. Taylor Kangas hit a three-pointer to make it 50-25.

Ella Stemmer made three shots to make it 56-28. Kate Stemmer followed with her second three of the game. And after a free-throw by Canen, Mallory Bohl made a couple of baskets to finish the scoring for Saline.

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Stats

  • Ella Stemmer - 24 points, 10 rebounds, 4 steals, 5 assists
  • Sophie Canen - 16 points, 5 rebounds, 4 steals, 3 assists
  • Kate Stemmer - 12 points, 7 rebounds, 2 steals, 2 assists
  • Emily Wilczynski- 5 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists
  • Mallory Bohl - 4 points, 2 rebounds
  • Taylor Kangas - 3 points, 2 rebounds

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Notes:

Kate Stemmer had a seriously noteworthy game. One correspondent wrote to say he'd never seen a freshman play defense like Kate before. She's a terror out there. She gets her hands on everything. She never gives up on plays. She competes for every rebound. And then today she scores 12 points on top of that defense.

Saline faces Brighton. Coincidentally, the Hornets were about to face the Bulldogs in the regional final last year when the season was shut down to the new COVID-19 pandemic. Maybe they should award last year's regional trophy to the winner of the game - just because. Plymouth (12-7) faces Wayne Memorial (14-1) on the other side of the regional bracket. The winner of this regional advances to the quarterfinal against the winner of the Bedford regional.

Alumni Amera Boyd, Liz Sekerak and Steffi Bentley, who helped the Hornets defeat Huron to win last year's district, were in attendance. Once a Hornet ...

There are few things more special than being at a loss for words to describe your joy after victory. This NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs ad says it well.

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So it's hard not to be impressed by the poise of the Hornets.

Sophie Canen Interview:

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Ella Stemmer Interview

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