Monroe, Bedford advance to District finals rematch
Shot after shot, Sophia Bussell came up empty.
The Monroe freshman was ice cold in the first half Wednesday night. She went scoreless on 0-for-10 shooting from the field and picked up three fouls before halftime.
"In the first half, I was having a rough patch," Bussell said. "But I knew I had to keep my head in it. I had to keep positive and not let the missed shots get to me. I've been having some pretty off couple games lately, but I just had to not give up."
Bussell's positive attitude paid off in the second half when the Trojans needed her most.
Bussell and her older sister, Olivia, combined for 49 points to lead Monroe to a 60-54 victory over Gibraltar Carlson in the Division 1 District semifinals.
Bedford held on to defeat Trenton 36-30 in the night's other semifinal, setting up a rivalry rematch in Friday night's championship game.
PHOTO GALLERY: Monroe, Bedford, Carlson girls basketball in Division 1 District semifinals
Sophia scored all 17 of her points in the second half to help Monroe climb out of a big hole. Carlson controlled the first half, leading by as many as 11 points and taking a 32-24 advantage into the intermission.
The Bussell sisters got Monroe back into the game quickly in the second half. Olivia scored 10 of her game-high 32 points in the third, and Sophia added 9 as the Trojans outscored Carlson 21-11.
Sophia gave Monroe its first lead of the game with 1:48 to go in the third and she stepped up in the fourth after Olivia twice exited the game with foul trouble.
"Coach (Monroe coach John Mason) just told me that my shot would fall if I just kept shooting," Sophia said. "And, if it wasn't falling, to just take it to the basket."
Driving to the hoop seemed to do the trick. Sophia scored 8 points on layups and was 6-for-9 from the free-throw line in the crucial final minutes of the game with Olivia benched after fouling out with 1:52 remaining.
Olivia also was on the sideline earlier in the fourth after taking her fourth foul of the game. It was just the second time this season and Olivia fouled out.
"I was hoping my team would be able to pick it up and keep the pace going," Olivia said. "I definitely wanted to stay in there and score more, but it is what it is."
Olivia's strong play was crucial in keeping Monroe close in the first half. She had 17 of her team's 24 points before the break.
"We just had to settle down," Mason said. "We just slowed things down mentally after the half and I just told them to keep believing. We knew we could get to the basket, so that's what we did. That was our main focus."
Carlson senior Emma Shimizu was fantastic on the other side of the court. She led her team with 23 points, including 17 in the first half that helped put her team into the lead.
Carlson coach Kristin Fabrizio admitted that the game got away from them in the second half.
"(Sophia Bussell) had a lot of momentum and we just couldn't shut down a lot of their shots," she said. "Their shots just started falling and they started to double up on Emma."
Jalyn Bongiorno scored 12 and Elyse Miller added 11 for the Marauders, who finished the season 18-4 overall and won the Downriver League championship. Shimizu, Miller and Meado Cioccio are the only seniors on Carlson's team.
"We had a good run and good ride," Fabrizio said. "I told them that I couldn't be more proud of them. They shouldn't hang their heads. They need to be proud of the season they had."
Bedford nearly fell victim to late rally, too.
The Mules relied on their trademark defense in a low-scoring first half, holding Trenton to just 10 points through the first two quarters. Bedford led 20-10 at halftime and 29-20 going into the fourth quarter.
Bedford coach Bill Ryan implored his team to slow the pace of play in the final period and let the clock be Trenton's enemy.
The strategy nearly backfired.
Trenton played a high-pressure, aggressive defense to get the ball out of the Mules' hands and closed within 32-30 with 1:46 remaining.
"The tricky thing is, once you decide to go down that road, it's tough to get your momentum back offensively," Bedford coach Bill Ryan said. "I thought we had enough of a buffer (going into the fourth) that even if we turned it over a couple times, we would still be in good shape. But every time we turned it over, they seemed to get a 3 and we missed free throws.
"It was a perfect storm and we ended up in a dogfight."
Bedford senior Sophia Gray could feel the momentum turning against the Mules late in the fourth quarter.
"It was really the whole end of the fourth quarter," Gray said. "When I went to the locker room (after the game), I thought I was going to have a panic attack. I've had the feeling of losing before, but never when it could actually be my last game. It was very nerve wracking, but I'm very grateful we came out on top."
Despite her nerves, Gray has experience in close games. After Trenton closed within 2 points, Gray scored Bedford's only field goal of the fourth quarter, grabbing an offensive rebound and putting it back up. She finished with a team-high 11 points.
Gray's clutch play gave the Mules a 34-30 lead with 38.6 seconds to go, and Trenton missed two shots in the final 30 seconds.
"It takes a lot of grit and concentration in these types of games," Gray said. "A lot of concentration to work together and just get it done. ... It was really a test for our team to be able to survive a close game and pull out a win."
Ryan didn't second guess his decision to slow the offense in the fourth quarter.
"It was the right play," he said. "With any of my other teams I would've played it that way. We just needed to be better. We needed to not turn it over, maintain possession of the basketball and be a little smarter, a little more mature."
Bedford (16-5) and Monroe (12-9) will meet in the District finals at 7 p.m. Friday. The Mules won the two previous meetings this season.
"We've changed a lot though," Mason said. "We're going to go all out. We have nothing to lose on Friday."
Bedford ; 7 ; 13 ; 9 ; 7 ; - ; 36
Trenton ; 6 ; 4 ; 10 ; 10 ; - ; 30
BEDFORD: V. Gray 1 2-2 4, Ryan 3 0-1 6, Pudlowski 3 (1) 0-0 7, Behnke 0 3-4 3, S. Gray 4 3-4 11, Mullins 2 (1) 0-0 5. Totals 13 (2) 8-11 36.
TRENTON: Chappelle 5 (4) 0-0 14, Rickman 1 0-0 2, Thomas 1 (1) 2-2 5, Bynum 3 (1) 0-0 7, Edmunds 0 2-2 2. Totals 10 (6) 4-4 30.
* * *
Monroe ; 14 ; 10 ; 21 ; 15 ; - ; 60
Carlson ; 19 ; 13 ; 11 ; 11 ; - ; 54
MONROE: O. Bussell 11 (3) 7-10 32, Neddo 2 0-0 4, Roberts 0 0-3 0, Leuch 0 0-1 0, Snodgrass 1 0-0 2, Aulph 1 1-2 3, Bice 0 2-2 2, S. Bussell 5 (1) 6-8 17. Totals 20 (4) 16-26 60.
GIBRALTAR CARLSON: Fowler 3 0-1 6, Poli 0 0-2 0, Miller 4 3-7 11, B. Shimizu 0 2-2 2, E. Shimizu 9 5-6 23, Bongiorno 5 2-9 12. Totals 21 12-27 54.
This article originally appeared on The Monroe News: Monroe, Bedford advance to District finals rematch