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CHSL A-B FINALS: Marian repeats as Catholic League champs WITH PHOTO GALLERY

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DETROIT >> It didn’t take long for the Birmingham Marian Mustangs to figure out whether or not senior center Liz Grobbel was on.

Grobbel scored the first seven points of Sunday’s Catholic League A-B Championship game at University of Detroit-Mercy’s Calihan Hall, and the Mustangs never led by less than three points the rest of the way, beating rival Farmington Hills Mercy, 48-29.

The win clinches Marian’s second straight CHSL title, and third in four years.

It’s the second straight game that the 6-footer has been one of the deciding factors, as she’s turned in two of her best games of the season, back-to-back, at the perfect time.

“Yup. Going out with a bang. Since it’s my senior year, I thought, ‘Why not?’ No time like now,” Grobbel said, admitting it was a little odd to look up at the scoreboard, with Marian up 7-0, and realize that she’d scored the only points in the game. “I was a little surprised, but yes it was (different). I nice surprise, I guess.”

As it had been against an undersized Regina squad in the semifinals, Grobbel’s scoring inside was key. She had 12 of her game-high 14 points in the first half, as Marian (13-6) blew out to a 19-7 lead.

But it was defensively where the Mustangs really changed it up on the Marlins (14-5), having Grobbel sag way off her player, and hang out in the middle of the lane, to block shots, and cut down the Marlins’ ability to penetrate.

“I thought Grobbel was really key for them, especially in that first half, both ends of the floor. She hurt us inside, putbacks and post ups, and obviously she’s got a big size advantage over anybody that we have,” Mercy coach Gary Morris said. “They had Grobbel basically just kind of standing in the paint, kind of playing a one-man zone. That took away driving opportunities for us. She was more or less daring whoever she was guarding to shoot.”

Why the switch?

“Because I’ve got someone 6-(foot)-1 clogging the lane, that’s why!” Marian coach Mary Cicerone said with a laugh. “You know me, I like to pressure, so we’re going to get up, get up, get up (tight). We had to change our strategy when we lost a couple of games there.

“And this strategy seems to be working.”

While Grobbel does have the ability to get out and guard smaller players away from the basket, this allowed her to play into her strength of providing help-side defense for her teammates.

“It was a little weird to be honest. But it worked. I mean, it made sense what coach told us. It definitely made sense. I always try to help my teammates, so it just made sense that I could get there and help them if I was already in the post,” Grobbel said.

“I think just size-wise, it’s intimidating when someone comes right at you with their hands up, who’s 6-foot tall already, plus hands is 8 feet tall. That’s hard to get a shot off fast — especially some girls start lower, and come up. It’s hard to get your rhythm in when you have someone coming at you.

“And talking on defense, it’s like a sixth man on the court. That’s also intimidating. I think that definitely affected them. There wasn’t as much room, and the fact that I was there to help back my teammates up was probably a little bit of a mental game factor for them.”

The Marlins scored just 13 points through three quarters, before finally finding a spark of energy in the fourth and scoring 16. It got them no closer, though, as the Mustangs — who’d finally figured out a way to beat the pressure, which was keeping the ball out of point guard Olivia Moore’s hands — got some easy layups and hit free throws, matching the Marlins’ 16 points in the quarter. Lauren Montalbano had nine of her 11 points in the fourth for Marian.

“Really, though, just disappointing, because I’d like to see us play with the energy we kind of went through toward the end of the game, when we were way down,” Morris said. “We dug ourselves a hole early, and got as close as what — 7-4? That was about as close as we got the whole day.”

For Marian, it was Catholic League title No. 16, but maybe one of its less likely, considering all the talent that the two-time defending Class A champions lost — either to graduation or to transfer.

“I had a group last year where I could have tossed the ball out and we could have beaten just about anyone,” Cicerone said. “This is a team that isn’t just basketball players. They play other sports. They don’t watch basketball on TV, and you can tell. They are still learning the game. But today, you would have never known that.”

Last Updated: 2/21/2016 5:21:51 PM EST

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