BASKETBALL: Saline's Storied Season Ends in Regional Final

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Ella Stemmer shoots for three in the fourth quarter to cut Memorial's lead to three. It was the final basket for Saline's all-time leading scorer.

NORTHVILLE - The Saline girls basketball team's playoff run ended at the hands of Wayne Memorial in the regional championship game.

Wayne Memorial built early leads of 8-2 and 13-5 and led from start to finish. The Hornets twice cut the lead to three, but just couldn't get over the hump.  Memorial defeated Saline, 68-60, to advance to the quarterfinal against Bedford.

The Hornets finished the season as SEC Red champs and district champs.

Coach Leigh Ann Roehm wasn't interested in talking about the Xs and Os after the game. Instead, she heaped praise on a team that won its first conference title in nearly 20 years.

"There were things we could have done differently, but I cannot be prouder of the way my kids battled. We could have given up a 1,000 times, and we battled back and got ourselves back in the game, over and over and over and over," Roehm said.

She harkened back to a saying the team adopted last year, as COVID-19 crashed into the basketball playoffs: "You can't quarantine the passion of a Hornet."

"I feel like this team's effort tonight demonstrated that. Our passion and love for the game and each other would not be stopped," Roehm said. "We lost the overall game because we got off to a bad start and we battled the rest of the way. So much credit goes to these ladies because that was a really tough team, loaded with college players. I thought we really just gave them all they could handle."

Senior Ella Stemmer scored 21 points and grabbed 11 rebounds for Saline, capping off a brilliant career. Junior Sophie Canen scored 20 points and had two rebounds, steals and assists.

The Hornets struggled to matchup with the size of the Zebras. Their star, Alanna Micheaux, committed to Minnesota, returned from a dislocated kneecap and dominated in the paint - especially in the first quarter. She put back a rebound in the opening minute to open the scoring and scored Memorial's first six points. She scored eight of Memorial's first 16 points for an early 16-7 lead. She finished with 25 points. Eastern Michigan commit Lachelle Austin scored 27.

The Hornets were down 4-0 when Emily Wilczynski made a long hook shot 1:45 into the contest to get the Hornets on the board. Down 10-2, Kate Stemmer drained a 3-pointer to make it 10-5. Things got even tougher for Saline when Ella Stemmer went to the bench midway through the first quarter in foul trouble.

The Hornets struggled to get to the rim. Sophie Canen fought her way through several times and several hard fouls. She went 4-for-4 from the free throw line in the first quarter to help Saline climb back into the contest and make it 14-9. Stemmer returned to action and hit a three-pointer to make it 18-12. Canen followed with a basket to make it 18-14, but Memorial led 20-14 going into the second quarter.

Ella Stemmer opened the second quarter with a three-pointer to make it 20-17. But after a free throw by Canen made it 22-18, the Zebras went on an eight-point run to make it 30-18. Things once again looked bleak for the Hornets. But Canen continued to drive through the paint and draw hard fouls. She went 6-for-6 down in the final four minutes of the quarter and Natalie Sweetland also made a free throw. Saline was down 33-25 at halftime.

Kate Stemmer and Micheaux each traded two baskets to start the third quarter. Micheaux then made a third basket to make it 39-29.

Ella Stemmer responded with a three-pointer and then sank a 10-foot jumper to cut the lead to five. After Austin traded baskets with Stemmer, Austin hit a three-pointer. But senior Brielle Eugeni replied with her own three. Saline was down 44-39 with 2:59 to play.

Again, however, Memorial went on a six-point run. Stemmer sank a three-pointer at the buzzer to make it 50-42 going into the fourth. 

The Hornets opened the fourth with a pull-up jumper by Stemmer and a three-pointer by Natalie Sweetland. Saline had cut the lead to three with 7:15 to play. But Micheaux was fouled and made both shots and then she put back a rebound to make it 54-47. Eugeni replied with her own putback, but Memorial scored the next three points to take a 58-49 lead with 4:35 to play.

The Hornets mounted one last comeback. Wilczynski made a free throw for one point. Canen split the defense for a layup and then Stemmer hit a three from the corner. Saline was back within three at 58-55 with 2:39 to play.

That was as close as they got. The Zebras went on an eight-point run to put the game away. Canen scored five points down the stretch for Saline.

Saline's senior class was part of perhaps the best two-year span in the program's history, going 40-4, with two district titles and a conference title. Roehm talked about the contributions of her senior class, which entered the program when she took over as head coach four years ago. Roehm said she was selling this "big dream" about united, being fiercely united, inspired and grateful for every opportunity.

"They bought in as 14-year-olds. They were with me, 100 percent. They built the culture and they did the work. You have no idea the number of hours these kids put in to build their games and build the team culture here in Saline," Roehm said.

They developed a culture where winning was expected, Roehm said.

"They are great basketball players, but they are tremendous human beings," Roehm said.

It was the final game as Hornets for Ella Stemmer, Natalie Sweetland, Emily Wilczynski, Brielle Eugeni, Reggie Duerst and trainer Alaina Dorset. They helped set a high bar for the younger Hornets, like Canen, Kate Stemmer, Beth Ann Ford and company.

"I'm excited about the future. We just talked in the locker room. These seniors have left a legacy and the only way we respect it is if we do the same things and follow their lead," Roehm said.

Stats

  • Ella Stemmer- 21 points, 11 rebounds
  • Sophie Canen - 20 points, 2 rebounds, 2 steals, 2 assists
  • Kate Stemmer- 7 points, 4 rebounds, 2 steals, 2 assists
  • Brielle Eugeni- 5 points, 5 rebounds
  • Natalie Sweetland - 4 points, 5 rebounds, 2 steals
  • Emily Wilczynski- 3 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists

Notes

Saline had won seven straight playoff games, dating back to last year.

Saline finished the season with an 18-2 record. Last year they were 22-2. The Hornets are 40-4 over the last two seasons.

Saline had a 24-game winning streak between last season's loss to Huron and this season's loss to Bedford.

The Hornets simply couldn't compete in the paint. They were badly outrebounded. Memorial made just one three-pointer. Saline made nine.

Ella Stemmer was in foul trouble and had just five points in the first half. She adjusted in second half and scored 10 points in the third quarter and five in the fourth.

Sophie Canen was 13 of 14 from the free-throw line. Canen took a beating in the first half and by the third and fourth quarter was having some trouble picking herself up off the floor due to the punishment. Gutsy effort.

Kate Stemmer, a defensive force since the start of the season, seemed a lot more confident in her shot as the games got more important. That bodes well for the future of Saline girls' basketball.

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