February 24, 2014 at 1:19 pm

David Goricki breaks down the girls state basketball tournament

Farmington Hills Mercy High School guard Taylor Jones, right, averages 12.5 points. (Bryan Mitchell / Special to Detroit News)

Gary Morris feels confident Farmington Hills Mercy is ready to make a long postseason run after pulling out a pair of close wins against quality foes to close out the season.

The state girls basketball tournament begins today with districts, and Mercy (19-1) faces Southfield at Detroit Mumford.

“We feel that the schedule we played, both in the nonleague and Catholic League, has prepared us well for the state tournament,” said Morris, who guided Mercy to a 55-54 victory over Bloomfield Hills Marian in the Catholic League title game, then a 62-59 win over Goodrich on Friday. Marian was ranked as high as No. 12 nationally by USA Today and Goodrich is the two-time defending Class B champ.

It doesn’t get any easier.

Mercy has possible showdowns with Grosse Pointe South and PSL champion Detroit King in the regional.

“We could have three of the top five teams in the state playing in that regional,” Morris said. “I think it is natural for people to project some potential future matchups, but we have to focus on the districts.”

Mercy has a strong backcourt in Taylor Jones (12.5 points), Candice Leatherwood (10), Sam Bauer, Allie Gorcyca and Sierra LaGrande.

While Mercy is among the favorites, Holly is one of the surprises of the season. Holly is 20-0 and in search of its first district title since 1993.

“We beat Hartland in the first game of the season and we had never beaten them before,” said Dave Hall, who has been in Holly’s program for 19 years, the last 14 as head coach. “That was a big win for us.”

Holly is led by Cleveland State-bound Allyssa Copley (13 points, 10 rebounds, 4.5 assists), a 6-foot-1 senior. Sophomore guard Kaitlyn Smith averages 13 points and senior Abby Lewandowski is the defensive stopper.

Holly has a potential state quarterfinal matchup with Midland and its Miss Basketball candidate Jessica Walter.

Grosse Pointe South has advanced to the title game the last two years and has a player in junior guard Cierra Rice who is capable of taking a game over.

Defending champion: Grand Haven. Favorite: Grosse Pointe South. Contender: Farmington Hills Mercy. Darkhorse: Holly.

Toughest district: Haslett with DeWitt, Haslett and East Lansing.

Final Four: Midland over Grand Ledge, Grosse Pointe South over Bloomfield Hills Marian.

Championship: Grosse Pointe South over Midland.

Class B

Frank Orlando will be in search of a state championship in a fourth different decade when he leads Country Day into postseason competition.

Country Day won a Class C state title in 1989 and Class B championships in 1995, ’97, ’98, ’99, 2002, ’03, ’04, ’08 and ’09.

“I don’t know if anyone expected us to be this good, so we’re really excited with the opportunity that’s in front of us,” said Orlando, whose Country Day team lost in last year’s quarterfinal. “Our backcourt has been very effective. Asia (Doss) can create, drive, dish it off and really get people involved. They all seem to work off of each other well. They understand each other’s strengths.”

Doss, a senior guard, is a Miss Basketball candidate who will play next year at Ohio State. She is averaging 17 points, five assists and five steals. Freshman Destiny Pitts is averaging 14 points and senior Brittany Washington 13.

Country Day (18-1) has a potential quarterfinal showdown with defending state champion Goodrich, which who is led by junior guard Tania Davis — the front runner for Miss Basketball next year.

While Goodrich is the two-time defending Class B champs, Rod Wells is working hard to make sure Ypsilanti Arbor Prep crashes their party. Prep had big wins at Benton Harbor (62-49), Southfield-Lathrup (41-32) and Country Day (57-41), which played without Doss (ankle injury) on Feb. 12.

“I made that schedule to get us ready for the state tournament,” Wells said.

Prep (17-3), which has losses to Detroit King, Goodrich and Bloomfield Hills, is led by its backcourt of sophomore Nastassja Chambers, juniors ZaKiya Wells and Payton Sims and freshmen Adrienne Anderson and Katlyn Brownlee.

Defending champion: Goodrich. Favorite: Detroit Country Day. Contender: Ypsilanti Arbor Prep. Darkhorse: Benton Harbor.

Toughest district: Olivet with Jackson Northwest, Olivet and Eaton Rapids.

Final Four: Grand Rapids South Christian over Clare, Detroit Country Day over Arbor Prep.

Championship: Country Day over South Christian.

Class C

Saginaw Nouvel knows what it takes to make it to the state championship game, losing to Manchester a year ago.

Can Nouvel get back and finish the job?

Nouvel already has faced a challenging schedule and met the challenge, defeating last year’s Class B runner-up, Flint Powers Catholic, 53-47, Class A state-ranked Midland, 56-43, on Friday and previously unbeaten Reese, 49-43, on Feb. 4.

Rachel McInerney, a 6-2 post player, has played well all season for Nouvel, putting up 23 poi nts, 16 rebounds and four steals against Reese; 18 points and 15 rebounds against Powers; and 16 points against Midland. Sophomore guard Laurel Jacqmain is a key in the team’s full-court pressure defense.

Mary Jo Skiendziel, who has coached in Nouvel’s program the past seven years — six as head coach of the freshmen team — took over the varsity earlier this month.

Nouvel and Reese have a potential meeting in the regional. Nouvel defeated 23-0 Reese in last year’s regional, 47-45.

St. Ignace, last year’s state champion in Class D, has moved up and also will be a contender to play for the title.

Defending champion: Manchester. Favorite: Saginaw Nouvel. Contender: Reese. Darkhorse: St. Ignace

Toughest district: At Kalkaska with McBain, Traverse City St. Francis and Kalkaska.

Final Four: Saginaw Nouvel over Niles Brandywine, St. Ignace over Grosse Pointe Liggett.

Championship: Saginaw Nouvel over St. Ignace.

Class D

Miss Basketball front runner Lexi Gussert will be trying to carry Crystal Falls Forest Park to the state championship.

And St. Ignace won’t be a roadblock this time around.

Gussert, who averages 29 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists, scored 30 in last year’s quarterfinal loss to St. Ignace.

Gussert is among all five starters back from that team, which has been on a mission.

Defending champion: St. Ignace. Favorite: Crystal Falls Forest Park. Contender: Frankfort. Darkhorse: Athens.

Toughest district: Battle Creek St. Philip with Climax-Scotts, St. Philip and Martin.

Final Four: Frankfort over Marine City Cardinal Mooney, Crystal Falls Forest Park over Athens.

Championship: Crystal Falls Forest Park over Frankfort.

david.goricki@detroitnews.com