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Historic Hart girls basketball season ends in state semifinal loss to Hemlock

Pirates cannot overcome 21-1 first-quarter deficit, ending memorable run to MSU’s Breslin Center.

Photos by Billy Mann | CatchMark

EAST LANSING – It’s long been a dream for Hart’s girls basketball team to play on the big stage of Michigan State University’s Breslin Center.

For the Pirates, the first eight minutes of Thursday afternoon’s Division 3 state semifinal against Hemlock was nightmarish.

Hart’s nerves, Hemlock’s defense and the Huskies’ hot early shooting put the Pirates in a hole from which they could never recover in a 57-26 loss.

Hemlock scored the first 13 points of the game and raced to a 21-1 lead by the end of the first quarter as Hart went 0-for-9 from the floor and turned the ball over eight times. The Huskies shot 64.3 percent from the field in the opening frame (9-for-14), capped by Chloe Watson’s 3-pointer from the wing at the buzzer.

“Before the game, we seemed nervous, which honestly I was nervous. You’re on a big stage, big venue, and I think Hemlock did a better job getting rid of those nerves early scoring, playing their press, and it took forever to get rid of (the nerves),” Hart coach Travis Rosema said.

“Uncharacteristic mistakes, which were probably a lot of results of what Hemlock was doing to us, but we didn’t play our best game. … It’s almost like we were nervous to be here a little bit.”

Hart shook off some nerves in the second quarter, but the turnovers continued and the Pirates could not close the gap. Hart had 15 turnovers and shot 3-for-20 (15 percent) en route to a 29-7 halftime deficit.

After a memorable season in which Hart captured the West Michigan Conference Rivers Division title along with district and regional crowns, plus a 45-41 quarterfinals win over top-ranked Buchanan Tuesday, the Pirates finish with a 24-4 record.

Hemlock (25-3) advances to Saturday’s 4 p.m. state title game against Blissfield (27-1), which defeated Madison Heights Bishop Foley, 45-41, in the day’s first semifinal Thursday at Breslin.

Senior Aspen Boutell paced Hart with seven points, two rebounds and two steals. Sophomore Kelsey Copenhaver had five points and five rebounds, while sophomore Addi Hovey finished with four points, nine rebounds and three steals. Senior Mariana VanAgtmael finished with four points, seven rebounds and two assists.

Junior Abby Hicks added five rebounds, three steals and two assists for the Pirates, who finished 10-of-48 from the floor (20.8 percent), including 2-for-17 from 3-point range (11.8 percent).

“It was definitely really frustrating getting to the basket and just not getting anything to drop,” Hicks said.

Hart edged Hemlock on the boards, 35-34, and finished with 19 turnovers to 15 for the Huskies. Hemlock shot 43.4 percent from the field (23-of-53) and went 8-of-25 (32 percent) from deep.

Hemlock senior Regan Finkbeiner led all scorers with 24 points to go with four steals and three assists. Junior Lauren Borsenik had 17 points and 10 rebounds for the Huskies, who earned a trip to the Breslin Center for the semifinals two seasons ago but had to forfeit because of positive COVID-19 tests.

“I asked them after the quarterfinals, I asked them, ‘Is the Breslin Center the destination or is it the goal?’ and they said it’s the destination,” Hemlock coach Scott Neumeyer said. “I think that told me everything I needed to know. They didn’t come here just to play one game. They came here to play two.”

Hemlock was a team on a mission and played like it from the get-go against Hart.

Hemlock played with confidence and attacked the typically pesky Hart defense from the inside-out.

The Huskies’ pressure defense took a toll on the Pirates, too.

“What happened two years ago (with COVID), obviously it was really devastating (and) sad. The year after, we’re like, ‘Let’s make it to the Breslin this year. Let’s go — it’s our year,’ and then we lost in districts,” Finkbeiner said. “This year, we really focused on the next game — not districts, not regionals, not the Breslin. It was one game at a time. We don’t want to look too far ahead.”

This was Hart’s first-ever trip to the Breslin Center for the girls state semifinals. The last time the Pirates’ girls basketball program captured a regional title was 1992.

Hart’s only losses in the regular season came against teams that went deep into the state tournament: Division 3 regional finalist Kent City (58-52), and the Pirates avenged that defeat; Division 2 quarterfinalist Holland Christian (62-57 in 2 OTs), and Division 3 regional finalist Lake City (52-41), which lost to Hemlock in overtime in those regional finals.

This Hart squad left an indelible mark on its community. The “Pirate Posse” and “Parent Posse,” as the student and parent cheering sections are dubbed, followed their team in large numbers and provided a needed boost.

The Pirates’ players and coaches set the tone by dreaming big and planting seeds for future generations.

“My biggest thing going into the season being my senior year, I really wanted to set a tone and get that picture in the third- and fourth-graders’ mind (that) they can do anything — it’s possible. We started that young, they’re starting that young. I think my biggest thing was I wanted to be a role model and I think this season really proved that.”

Here’s a replay of the audio stream of the game:

Lead writer for CatchMark SportsNet and Web Services leader for CatchMark Technologies.

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