The district playoffs are high school basketball’s version of March Madness. One and done. You win and keep playing. Lose, and you go home. And on Monday evening, the Saline Hornets stunned the heavily favored Ann Arbor Huron River Rats, 56-46 in an overtime thriller.
The local weather forecast showed that the high winds and threatening weather outside had subsided. However, inside the Belleville High School gym, Hornet junior guards Griffin ‘Lightning’ Yaklich and Trevor ‘Thunder’ Arico brought a storm to the game that overwhelmed the River Rats.
Arico hit a nifty three-point shot with 53 seconds remaining in regulation. That tied the game at 43-43. Following a Huron time out, the River Rats advanced the ball, looking to get a clear shot to win the game.
However, the Hornet defense was smothering. Every inch of the court was being contested. The River Rats had to wonder what team they were playing as the intensity they faced in the final seconds of the game was nothing like the team they had played, and defeated, twice before.
When the Rats finally got a shot off, it hit off the rim with Saline grabbing the rebound
With 1.4 seconds remaining in regulation, Saline inbounded the ball and ran out the clock to force the overtime period.
You know, a funny thing happened on the way to Belleville. The Hornets made a stop in Adrian last week. They played poorly for the first twenty-seven minutes of the game. Following a time out, trailing the Adrian Maples by ten, the Hornets grew up. Led by Arico and Yaklich, the Hornets stormed back to tie the game 39-39 to force overtime. In OT, junior forward Tyler Belskus converted a layup to win, 42-41 in the final second.
Saline Head Coach Jacob Fosdick told his team following that overtime win that “one play can turn around an entire season”. His team believed him and took those words to heart in the playoff game against Huron.
They outscored the River Rats 13-3 in overtime, led by Yaklich’s six points, followed by Tyler Belskus’ five and Arico’s two points. While the timely scoring was critical, the real story of the overtime period was the Hornet defense.
The players’ faces told the story of the overtime period. Simply put, they were on fire. Their eyes burned. A fire had been lit in their belly and they wanted to win. They could smell victory. They could taste victory. They would not be denied.
And in the end, all the River Rats could muster was one three-point shot with 24 seconds remaining to cut the Hornet lead to ten, 56-46.
This district playoff game was different than the previous two times these teams played. Huron would score five points in a row and Saline would respond. The Hornets remained close. They would not let the River Rats pull away.
Arico opened the scoring in the game by sinking a short jump shot giving Saline a 2-0 lead. Huron then went on an 8-0 run before Fosdick called a time out.
Coming out of the timeout, the Hornets chipped away at the lead, ending the first quarter down 15-13. Senior forward Logan Evans opened the scoring in the second quarter to cut the deficit to 15-14. The remaining six points of the quarter were scored by Yaklich and Arico as Saline went to the locker room at the half down 25-20.
The third quarter was more of the same. The teams traded baskets, with Saline being led by Evans, Yaklich and Arico. Yaklich kept pressure on the River Rats by driving to the basket while Arico launched long and short jump shots. Saline headed into the final eight minutes of play, trailing 35-31.
As the River Rats focused their attention on Yaklich, Belskus got the Hornets on the board with a three-pointer. Then Yaklich drove to the basket, twice, to cut the deficit to one, 39-38. Belskus converted a free throw to get Saline within three, 42-39. Yaklich sank a free throw with 1:41 left to get the Hornets within two, 42-40. Then with :53 seconds left, Arico hit a three-point shot to pull the Hornets even at 43-43, sending the game into overtime.
No one expected Saline to start the overtime period on an 11-0 run. No one expected the River Rats to be the team that looked bewildered, wondering what was happening to them. And no one expected that it would Waleed Samaha, Huron head coach, to be the one with facial expressions filled with frustration as the game slipped away.
As the seconds ticked off in the overtime period, the Hornets erupted in celebration. They went into the game hearing from others in the gym that there was “no way Saline could beat an Ann Arbor team.” One by one, the players walked off the court, knowing that they had proved everyone wrong.
Following the game, Saline Head Coach Jacob Fosdick was all smiles. “We didn’t take care of the Ann Arbor teams during the regular season and everyone was saying that Saline couldn’t beat Ann Arbor. Well, tonight we did. We have huge boulders on our shoulders trying to prove ourselves,” Fosdick continued. “This team has so much fight in them.”
Commenting about some of his players, Fosdick said, “This season, we saw Tyler Belskus growing up right in front of us. He is playing his best basketball in March and as a basketball player, that is what you want.”
Saline was led by Griffin Yaklich with 24 points. Trevor Arico chipped in 18, Belskus 6 and Jacobsen and Evans each had five. And for the first time this season, the starting five scored all of the Hornet points.
The Hornets get right back into action on Wednesday evening when they will play the Ann Arbor Pioneers at Belleville High School. Tip off time is 5 p.m.
SALINE POST 3 STARS:
1st Star: Griffin ‘Lightning’ Yaklich (24 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists)
2nd Star: Trevor ‘Thunder’ Arico (18 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists)
3rd Star: Tyler Belskus (6 points, 5 rebounds)