Photos by Scott DeCamp | CatchMark
BANGOR — You can debate whether or not this Hart girls basketball team plays with a chip on its shoulder.
What’s not up for discussion is that the gritty Pirates wear the acronym “DMGB” like they do emotions on their sleeves. When it comes to the expression “Doesn’t Matter Get Better,” they take it to heart.
In their minds, hype doesn’t matter. But the perception of the program just keeps getting better as they advance through the state tournament.
Hart toppled top-ranked Buchanan — led by 6-foot-4 Miss Basketball finalist and Ohio State signee Faith Carson — 45-41 in a Division 3 state quarterfinal Tuesday night at Bangor High School.
For the first time ever, the Pirates have punched their ticket to Michigan State University’s Breslin Center for the state semifinals. Hart (24-3) will take on Hemlock (24-3), a 52-37 quarterfinals winner over Elk Rapids, in the semis at 2 p.m. Thursday.
Buchanan, which had won 23 straight games entering Tuesday, closes the season with a 23-2 record.
“It doesn’t matter — it doesn’t matter they’re No. 1 in the state; it doesn’t matter (Carson’s) going to Ohio State …,” Hart coach Travis Rosema demonstratively reminded his team in an emotional postgame huddle amid celebration.
“We’re overlooked. We’re overlooked,” Rosema confidently nodded in a media interview moments later. “You know, they’re No. 1 in the state … according to who? That doesn’t matter — I believe in my team. I thought we were No. 1 in the state.
“(Buchanan’s great) — no disrespect, they’re a great team — but we had to have belief and I believe wholeheartedly in this team.”
Carson likely made believers of those in the crowd who had yet to see her play with nine first-quarter points as Buchanan built a 15-11 lead. The Bucks’ first-half lead grew to as large as seven, as Hart junior point guard Abby Hicks battled early foul trouble, but the Pirates played like they belonged and kept the deficit at four entering the halftime break, 23-19.
Photos by Kiara Mikkelsen for CatchMark
Featuring its pesky, active defense and up-tempo game, Hart made its big move in the third quarter. The Pirates outscored the Bucks 11-3 in the third to take a 30-26 advantage into the final frame.
Hicks scored eight of her team-high 17 points in the fourth, when the Pirates converted 7 of 11 free-throw attempts to stave off the Bucks.
Hart sophomore Addi Hovey went 4-for-6 from the line in the fourth. She finished with 10 points, five rebounds, three steals and three blocks, all while being tasked with defending Carson despite give up 6 inches.
“We knew that we couldn’t stop her. She’s just that big. We knew she was going to be good, but we just had to limit her shots — that’s how we were going to win this game,” Hovey said.
Carson finished with game highs of 22 points (10 in the fourth quarter) and 15 rebounds. Carson is capable from 3-point range, but she went 0-for-2 from deep and 9-of-15 from the floor overall.
Buchanan junior LaBria Austin, who like Carson scored 29 points in a regional finals win over Kalamazoo Christian, finished with seven points against Hart.
“Their man-to-man defense was really good. I think it rushed us a little bit. I think we were impatient on offense and we had a tough time at times getting the ball to 54 (Carson),” Buchanan coach Gabe Miller said. “But you see them on film, they’ve got really quick hands. …
“Offensively, they got out and ran us in transition and that was a concern of mine, too. … They got that lead (in the third quarter) and kind of spread us out, (the Bucks) gave up a couple layups to Hicks — great player. … We went back and forth and we just made one or two more mistakes than they did. You know, they got to move on and we’re going home.”
Hart got important contributions from several sources, including senior Mariana VanAgtmael, who hit a pair of 3-pointers and finished with 10 points to go with four steals. Senior Chloe Coker had five points, while sophomore Kelsey Copenhaver came off the bench and hustled up five rebounds (three offensive).
Hicks also had five rebounds and three steals, while senior Aspen Boutell notched four assists, three rebounds and three steals.
“As a team, we all share the ball pretty well,” VanAgtmael said. “I hit some big shots to get us going in the beginning, but at the end Addi hit some big (free throws). We all hit some big shots.”
Two more big wins and Hart can lay claim to its first state title in girls basketball.
With wins over Kent City (state finalist in 2021 and 2022) and Buchanan in the last two games, the Pirates are already garnering some major validation.
“I’m just proud of these 14 girls on my team. (They) practice hard and (they’re) bought-in and do what we ask every day,” Rosema said.
“Anything is possible. I just feel like we don’t get enough attention over by the (Silver Lake) sand dunes. There’s not a lot of stuff over there. People are more worried about the teams by the big city.”
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