SAULT STE. MARIE - The play was designed for Lexi Gussert, and why shouldn't it have been? The Forest Park sophomore All-Stater already had 27 points and was the only player on the floor with the ability to go coast-to-coast against pressure.
But third-ranked Gaylord St. Mary triple-teamed her before halfcourt, and with the clock running down in regulation and the game tied, there was no way she could get the shot off.
"I saw three girls coming at me and saw Audrey (Sholander) wide open," Gussert said. "And I have all the confidence in the world to give it to her."
Peter Pietrangelo/The Evening News Photos
Forest Park head coach Jeff Syrjanen (black shirt) runs on the court to join the Trojans in celebration following Tuesday’s state quarterfinal victory over Gaylord St. Mary.
She threw a baseball pass to the senior point guard, who was all alone behind the Snowbirds defense with less than 5 seconds to go.
"I never thought it'd come down to me," she said. "They said clear the floor for Gussert. So I got out of the way, and the next thing I knew I was wide open."
She was met by a St. Mary defender, but Sholander brushed her off and hit the biggest shot of her career to give the Trojans a 59-57 win in a Class D quarterfinal and send them to the state semifinals for the first time since 1995.
"I saw that baseball pass and I knew it was my turn," said Sholander, who finished with 10 points. "It was just second nature, I had to put it up so that's what I did. "I honestly (thought I was fouled), but I knew no matter what the clock said, no matter what the ref said, I just had to put it in and it worked."
The final play was set up with St. Mary All-State senior Karli Jacob at the free-throw line with 8 seconds to go. After Jacob missed the first shot, Syrjanen called timeout to set up the final play.
"We told them to get the ball to Lexi, spread and let her try to take it coast-to-coast," Syrjanen said. "If not, everybody fly to the basket. She's smart, she found Audrey open way down on the other end. Game. History."
Jacob missed the second shot, and the ball went to Gussert. She started running down the floor but was quickly met by the Snowbirds' defense. At that point, she made her decision.
"(The pass) felt a little long at first, but she went up there and grabbed it," Gussert said. "I'm very thankful for that."
The Trojans (21-5) will meet Athens (20-5) in a semifinal Thursday.
Portland St. Patrick (19-6) and defending champion and No. 7 Waterford Our Lady (21-4) play in the other semifinal.
Both teams shot the lights out of the Sault High gym, combining for 19 3-pointers. Gussert had five 3-pointers among her 27 points, Tanner Bartczak hit three 3-pointers and had 15 points, and Kendra Campbell hit one.
The Snowbirds hit 10 3-pointers, including 10 from Jacob and four from Kari Borowiak, who each finished with 20 points. Borowiak's final 3-pointer gave the Snowbirds their biggest lead of the game, 51-43, early in the fourth quarter.
"No one missed," Syrjanen said. "They'd make one, we'd answer, we'd make one, they answered."
The Trojans chipped away and took a 56-55 lead on a Sholander layup off a Gussert steal with a minute left. Mary Spyhalski, who finished with 12 for the Snowbirds, hit a long jump shot with 46 seconds left for a 57-56 lead. Gussert tied the game on a free throw with 23 seconds left.
(Peter Pietrangelo is with The Evening News of Sault Ste. Marie)
ST. MARY 15 13 20 9 - 57
FOREST PARK 16 12 15 16 - 59
ST. MARY: Borowiak 20, Bebble 3, Smith 2, Jacob 20, Spyhalski 12.
FT: 3-6. F: 7. 3PFG: 10 (Jacob 5, Borowiak 4, Bebble 1).
FOREST PARK: Gussert 27, Campbell 5, Bartczak 15, Shamion 2,
Sholander 10. FT: 6-9. F: 13. 3PFG: 9 (Gussert 5, Bartczak 3, Campbell 1).