By Ron Rop

EAST LANSING — If there were any nerves playing on the big stage of the Breslin Center, only one team showed it on Thursday.

In a nightmarish start, the Hart Pirates fell way behind early and lost to the Hemlock Huskies 57-26 in the Division 3 semifinal game played at the Breslin on the campus of Michigan State University.

“We are obviously disappointed with the way the game went,” Hart coach Travis Rosema said. “That is the most complete team I have seen all year. We just did not execute the way we wanted, but that was the best team we have seen.

“They came out and really executed their game plan,” Rosema said. “We had nerves. We had some shots that didn’t fall and they just executed better than us.”

Photo courtesy of LSJ Photographer Joe Washington

Hemlock may have poisoned the day for Hart, but certainly not the season. The Pirates made history with its first-ever semifinal appearance. They won 24 of 28 games and opened a lot of eyes as to where the Pirate girls’ basketball program currently stands.

But on Thursday, the Pirates fell behind 13-0 before Abby Hicks made 1-of-2 free throws with 3:03 remaining in the opening quarter. By quarter’s end, it was 21-1 and the Pirates were bitten hard by the turnover bug. Eight Hart turnovers in the opening quarter led to numerous points for Hemlock. For good measure, Hemlock’s Chloe Watson canned a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give her team a 20-point lead after just eight minutes.

The quick surge in the opening eight minutes didn’t really surprise Hemlock coach Scott Neumeyer, who admitted he had some nerves coming in, but it certainly wasn’t reflected in his team’s play.

Photo is courtesy of LSJ Photographer Joe Washington

“We’ve had some quick starts,” Neumeyer said. “Our first quarter has been our best quarter. We have jumped on some teams this year. I’m not going to say I was surprised. I know what these girls are capable of.”

It wasn’t until 26 seconds elapsed in the second quarter that Hart scored its first field goal, a 12-foot jumper in the paint by senior Aspen Boutell. And while the Pirates struggled, the Huskies flourished with Lauren Borsenik dominating inside with her size and strength. Regan Finkbeiner did her share of damage as well with layups off Pirate turnovers.

The lead grew to 23-3 near the midpoint of the second quarter and 29-7 at the half.

Photo is courtesy of LSJ Photographer Joe Washington

“It was definitely different playing at a big college with a big atmosphere,” Boutell said. “They were a good team. We just needed to get used to it, I guess.”

The Pirates were plagued by missed layups and numerous shots that rang in and out of the basket. They ended the first half with 15 turnovers, 19 for the game.

In the third quarter, Hart held its own and trailed 43-19. But the damage had been done by Lauren Borsenik on the inside and Finkbeiner, who established herself on the outside.

Both coaches emptied their benches in the final quarter in which the Huskies outscored the Pirates 14-7. Nine of those points came on a trio of 3-pointers in rapid succession from Finkbeiner, who scored a game-high 24 points. She made 4-of-7 shots from beyond the 3-point line. In all, Hemlock made eight 3-pointers in the game.

“I was hot and I was confident,” said Finkbeiner, who averages 17 points per game. “I was open and there was no hesitation. I was going to shoot it.”

Lauren Borsenik added 17 points and a game-high 10 rebounds.

Hart was led by Boutell with seven points and Kelsey Copenhaver with five. Addi Hovey had nine rebounds for the Pirates (24-4).

“It was definitely a big difference with the big court,” said Hicks. “But that is part of the game you have to adapt to and tonight we just didn’t do it.”

Hemlock (25-3) will take on Blissfield at 4 p.m. Saturday for the state title. Blissfield defeated Madison Heights Bishop Foley 45-41 in Thursday’s first semifinal game.

“I asked the girls if the Breslin was the destination or the goal and they said it was a destination,” Neumeyer said. “They didn’t come here to just play one game, but to play two.  We know we have a tough opponent ahead of us in Blissfield. They have size and speed and guards.”

Two seasons ago, Hemlock made it to the semifinals, but had to step away from that game due to covid.

All photos below are courtesy of LSJ Photographer Joe Washington