Can you sum up this game in one sentence? Yes. How about Ali’s “The Thrilla in Manila”.
Well not quite.
But it was the perfect execution of a game plan that destroyed the opponent’s game plan and left the River Rats team and fans scratching their heads wondering what went wrong. The Saline Hornets junior varsity team raised its season record to 12-3 with a thrilling 49-47 win over the Ann Arbor Huron River Rats Friday night on the road. This reporter sat in the stands among the Huron faithful during the game and listened to students and adults say – “this team is really good” or “we can’t even make a shot against this team." There will be no more sneaking up against any team in the SEC Red Division as this game has officially announced the presence of the Saline Hornets' junior varsity team as a force to be reckoned with.
Once again it was the effort put into team defense that made the difference. The Hornets were outscored 12-8 in the first quarter but then their tenacious defense – the team trademark, took the game over. Sophomore guard Sean Millspaugh made both ends of a 1-1 free throw giving Saline a 16-15 lead with 5:13 left in the second quarter – and Saline never lost the lead. The team defense forced Huron into five second-quarter turnovers and numerous forced shots while the Hornets were scoring at will. Saline outscored their opponent 16-8 and took a 24-20 lead into the locker room.
The third quarter was a lot more of the same. In-your-face defense, timely shots that landed and a cool game demeanor that allowed the Hornets to break through the Huron full court press with ease, often leading to uncontested lay-ups at the other end of the court. Saline allowed the Huron offense just seven points in the third quarter and took a 34-27 lead into the last quarter. And what a quarter it was.
In the first minute of the quarter Saline coach Jacob Fosdick was assessed a technical foul which tightened the score at 34-31. Sophomore guard Ryan Foley made a short jumper to boost the lead to 36-31 with 5:02 left. The Rats made a three-pointer which was answered by Justin Zylstra. With 4:07 left, sophomore forward Calder Pellerin blocked a Huron shot and Saline got possession. Jacob Finkbeiner was fouled, made both ends of a 1-1 free throw and then stole the in-bound River Rat pass and made another driving basket to give the Hornets a 43-37 lead with 3:23 left.
The River Rats, desperate to catch up, had to foul the Hornets on every possession and Saline made them pay. Zylstra was sent to the free throw line with 15 seconds left to play, made both shots to give Saline a 49-44 lead. Huron made a final desperation three-point shot but the Hornets had earned a 49-47 win. The Hornets were led by Finkbeiner’s 9 points, followed by 8 each from Millspaugh, Lance Moorer and Pellerin. Ryan Foley and Justin Zylstra each contributed 7.
“I just don’t know what to say,” coach Fosdick said. “This is a great group of kids. They concentrate in practice and they play hard. We introduced the Huron press early in practice so they team knew what to expect and they broke through the press with ease all night long. We play Belleville next and that will be another good test for the team.”
The JV team will host Belleville Tuesday night. Tip-off time is 5:30 p.m..