NOVI — It was as heartbreaking as it was sudden for the Howell girls basketball team on Tuesday night.
The Highlanders had fought back from a 29-19 deficit late in the third quarter of Tuesday’s Class A regional final against Farmington Hills Mercy at Novi High School by going on a 13-2 run to take the lead, 32-31, with 2:15 remaining.
But Mercy took the lead back and was up 35-32 when Leah Weslock hit a 3-pointer to tie the game with eight seconds left.
The Marlins hurried the ball up court and Jackie Bauer, held up in front of the Mercy bench by Howell defenders, fired a pass to Katie Coe, who hit a 15-foot baseline jumper at the buzzer to give Mercy a 37-35 victory.
And just like that, the Highlanders’ season was over.
“With the defender in her face, (Bauer) had to find (Coe), and she hit one of the toughest shots in basketball,” Howell coach Tim Olszewski said. “Credit to them, but we’ll learn from it.”
Mercy (17-6) will take on Northville (20-3) which beat Milford 35-28, in Thursday’s regional final.
Marlins coach Gary Morris admitted to some nerves.
“At first I didn’t know if she got it off on time,” he said. “As I saw the shot going up, I said, ‘Please go in.'”
Early on, it was Bauer who beleaguered the Highlanders, hitting four of her team’s six 3-pointers in the first half, leading Mercy to a 21-14 lead.
“We had a hard time getting around some of their screens and getting a hand in the shooters’ face,” Olszewski said. “Eighteen of their 21 points were 3s, and that’s some good shooting.”
On the other hand, the Highlanders couldn’t get the ball inside to Erin Honkala with any consistency and rarely attempted a 3-pointer in the first half.
“We weren’t shooting with confidence,” Olszewski said. “We were passing up a lot of shots with open looks. We tried establishing Erin early, and they did a good job putting bodies on her, bumping her around and keeping her off-kilter.”
Mercy picked up where it left off in the second half, rolling out to that lead before the Highlanders got going, holding Mercy scoreless for nearly seven minutes.
Honkala led the way, getting 10 of her game-high 16 points in the second half. Weslock finished with 12, including a pair of 3s in the fourth quarter.
“We hang our hat on defense,” Olszewski said. “We always say, up 10, down 10, we should always play that hard. They buckled down defensively and hit shots when they had to.”
The tying basket came on a designed play.
“They executed the play beautifully,” Olszewski said. “And with no time left (Mercy) ends up hitting the game-winner. We’ve had a couple of those go our way, and it hurts a lot, a great deal, actually, but we have no reason to hang our heads about the season we had.”
The Highlanders won 20 games for the first time in 20 seasons, with a team of mostly sophomores and juniors and heading for a bright future.
Bauer ended the game with 15 points, all on 3s, for Mercy while Coe finished with seven, including the game-winner.