BASKETBALL: Canen, Stemmer and the Hornets Hold off a Bulldog Charge, Saline Advances to the Sweet 16

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Saline junior Sophie Canen is surrounded by Bulldogs, but she still scored.

NORTHVILLE - You can draw up all the plans you want for team basketball. But at the end of the day, the players have to trust each other to execute.

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That's exactly what the Saline girls basketball team did Monday night, holding off a furious charge from Brighton to win 53-42 and advance to the sweet 16 and regional championship game against Wayne Memorial Wednesday.

Senior captain and star Ella Stemmer had just hit her second three-pointer in 60 seconds to give Saline a 41-32 lead with 4:14 to play in the third quarter of the regional semifinal at Northville High School, when suddenly, the Bulldogs' defense just started choking the life out of the Hornet offense. When the quarter was over, Saline led just 41-40.

The Bulldogs took the lead 42-41 with a couple of free throws early in the fourth. 

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Moments later, Ella Stemmer, facing tight coverage, passed to Sophie Canen, swung it back to junior Sophie Canen and she sank a three-pointer to give Saline a 44-42 lead.

The two teams played 2:40 seconds of tense, hard-fought basketball. 

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With 3:40 to play, Stemmer charged up the floor, stopped at the arc, passed to her sister Kate and then stepped toward the paint, bringing the defense with her. Canen stepped into Ella's spot, took the pass from Kate and hit another three. Saline led 47-42.  With 2:13 to play, Canen was fouled and went 2-for-2 from the line. 

The threat was over. 

"I just wanted to knock down shots for our team to give us a lead to go on (in the playoffs). I just wanted to knock down open shots," Canen said.

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Roehm said Canen's shooting showed the riskiness of focusing too closely on Stemmer, the senior star.

"It's a team effort. So if teams are going to send doubles to Ella, then we have lots of other players who can knock down shots," Coach Leigh Ann Roehm said. "Ella is such an unselfish player and sees the floor so well. She finds open people and then Sophie stepped up and made the open shots. I love the way we shared the ball. If they take away one aspect, we can shine in another."

Saline has had tough games. They did lose once at Bedford. They had a tough road game at Pioneer they won with the SEC Red crown on the line. But this Brighton contest was perhaps the most grueling game of the season.

Ella Stemmer, who led the team with 26 points and 10 rebounds, was the focus of immense pressure all game long.

"It was emotionally draining for us. It was a long game. But I'm super proud of the way we powered through," Stemmer said. "Every game has its highs and lows, and we saw that tonight. But we worked hard and played through it and I'm so proud of us."

Canen opened the scoring with a three-pointer 1:31 into the contest. Brighton responded with seven straight points. Stemmer replied with a three-pointer and then absorbed a foul on the way to the hoop for another basket to give Saline an 8-7 lead. Brighton replied with a basket to regain the advantage.

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With 2:30 to play in the quarter, Kate Stemmer hit a three-pointer to start a 9-point run to end the quarter. Then Kate Stemmer stole a ball and set up her sister for a layup. Ella then sank a couple of free throws. Natalie Sweetland finished the quarter by putting back a rebound for two.

It was a great start for the Hornets.

The second quarter was closer to even. Natalie Sweetland scored on a layup. Ella Stemmer scored on two layups and made three of four free throws. 

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Brielle Eugeni hit a three-pointer and scored on a  powerful drive through the paint late to close the half and give Saline a 31-24 lead going into the dressing rooms.

The third quarter featured four-minutes of run-and-gun basketball. 

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Ella Stemmer opened the scoring working a give and go with Natalie Sweetland. Brighton responded with a basket. 

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Then Canen slice through the defense and scored. But Brighton scored two baskets to cut the lead to five.

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Ella Stemmer rebuilt the lead to nine with two threes sandwiched around a Brighton basket. Saline led 41-32 with 4:14 to play. That's when the Brighton defense stepped up the defensive pressure. When the quarter was over, Saline led 41-40.

Brighton took the lead 1:38 into the fourth with a couple free throws, but then Canen scored a three-pointer to put Saline ahead.

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Remarkably, the Hornets didn't give up a point for the final 6:32 of the game.

The Hornets are thrilled to be competing for a regional final. Last year, the MHSAA shut down the tournament just as the Hornets were set to play Brighton in the regional championship.

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"This is a super big deal for us. We've made the regional finals two years in a row and don't think a Saline basketball team has ever done that before," Canen said. "That says loads about our program and about us as a team and how far we've come."

STATS

  • Ella Stemmer - 26 points, 10 rebounds, 2 assists
  • Sophie Canen - 13 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists
  • Kate Stemmer - 5 points, 2 rebounds, 4 steals, 4 assists
  • Brielle Eugeni - 5 points, 4 rebounds
  • Natalie Sweetland - 4 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists

Notes:

That first half was almost everything you could want to see from the Hornets. Kate Stemmer hitting a big-time three to give Saline a lead. Natalie Sweetland with top-notch rebounding and two baskets. Brielle Eugeni coming off the bench, providing physical defense while hitting a three and making a power move to the basket. 

Coach Roehm on Sweetland. "She's just a rock. Natalie is an unsung hero. But she's one of my heroes."

Ella Stemmer was less interested in the idea of beating Brighton as a chance to prove who would have won last year's regional than she was about playing the school from which her mom graduated. The family traditions run strong in the Stemmer family.

Speaking of family traditions - Dave Dalton - Coach Roehm's dad - is listed as a coach of the Hornets and has been at most games this year. He retired as Kalkaska's girls' coach in 2018 with more than 400 wins, two regional titles, eight district championships and six conference titles. His daughter was a star player for him.

Saline plays Wayne Memorial in the regional final at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Northville. Last year, in the regional semifinal, Saline bested Wayne Memorial 51-40. 2020 grad Steffi Bentley did a masterful job in the paint.

Wayne Memorial is 15-2, with losses to Hartland and Detroit Renaissance. They beat Plymouth, 51-27, Monday, without star forward Alanna Micheaux, a forward who has committed to Minnesota.

What were Mick McCabe, BCAM  and the Free Press smoking when they announced their Miss Basketball finalists without mentioning Ella Stemmer? Just because cause it's legal doesn't mean you should use it at work, Son of Swami.

The Hornets can't look ahead, but we can. Those pesky Kicking Mules have advanced to the regional final against Dearborn, where they've got to be the favorites, right? Wouldn't that be something - a Saline-Bedford rubber match in the state quarterfinal. 

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