BASKETBALL: Lincoln Pulls Away in Final Minutes to Defeat Saline

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It was hard to know what to expect when Ypsilanti-Lincoln arrived at Saline High School for the Hornets' first home game of the year Wednesday.

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Lincoln, state champion two years ago and poised for a deep run last year before COVID-19 canceled everything, is no longer led by phenom Emoni Bates, who left Lincoln to play at Ypsilanti Prep. The Railsplitters, led by sophomore Braelon Green, started the season 1-1, and were conspicuous by their absence on many "top teams" lists.

Saline, which opened their season with a win at Monroe, started this season looking for players to step into the leadership roles vacated by graduates Trevor Arico and Griffin Yaklich.

But by the end of the game,  we realized what we saw from all the teams in the Jake Fosdick-era - a hard-nosed, high-intensity effort that saw Saline go tit-for-tat with a fast and skilled Lincoln team.

The Hornets had the Railsplitters where they wanted them mid-way through the fourth, but the Railsplitters pulled away and won, 47-41.

The Hornets did some things well. But they know that was a game they could have won. They had chances to grow their lead midway through the fourth. They had chances to tie the game in the game's final minute.

"Honestly, we're disappointed. I think we should have played a better game," Fosdick said. "These are shots we know will fall."

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Saline struggled with the speed of Lincoln, which scored 10 of their 16-first half points on steals. Fosdick didn't want to make excuses but, he said, the Hornets simply weren't ready for Lincoln's speed.

"It was the first time seeing that type of speed and athleticism and we can't simulate it, so to go against it for the first time was something that, we knew it would be a factor. I wish we would have handled it a little better in the first half," Fosdick said.

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The Hornets slowed the pace of the game early. Green (16 points) opened the scoring with a basket 2:10 into the first quarter. 50 seconds later, Derek Caldwell (11 points) took a pass from Anthony Ferrari and hit a three pointer to give Saline the lead. Midway through the quarter, Ferrari found Jaden Pickett (11 points) with a pass and Pickett drove the lane  for a basket. Saline led 5-2.

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At 4:55 of the first, Pickett sank a three-pointer to make it 8-2. Lincoln replied with two baskets. Saline led 10-6 after a lay-up by Cooper Fairman (9 points). Lincoln replied with a basket. Saline led 10-8 after the first quarter.

The Railsplitters scored four of their first eight points on steals. They opened the second quarter with two steals - both of which led to easy buckets, for a 12-10 lead. 

Saline tied the game at 2:05 of the second with a bucket by Tyler Thibeault. Lincoln converted another steal into a basket to make it 14-12. 

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Saline jumped back in front when Thibeault dished to Caldwell for his second three-pointer of the contest. The see-saw affair continued with Lincoln jumping back in front, and then Saline regaining the advantage, 17-16, with a lay-up by Pickett.

Saline took the one-point lead into halftime.

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The Hornets opened the third quarter with a lay-up by Fairman for a 19-16 advantage. After that, that game started opening up. Lincoln scored three straight baskets for a 22-19 lead 2:29 into the quarter.

The Hornets went back in front with baskets by Thibeault (6 points) and Caldwell. After another Railsplitter basket, Pickett converted another lay-up to make it 25-24 Saline midway through the third. The Railsplitters went on an eight-point run  - the game's longest run - to take a 32-25 lead. 

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But Saline responded with baskets by Joshua Koch (4 Points) and Pickett.

Lincoln led 34-29 going into the fourth.

The Hornets were very good to start the quarter.

Thibeault opened the scoring for Saline, but Lincoln replied with a basket. Fairmen then hit a three-pointer to get Saline within two, at 36-34. Caldwell went 1-for-2 from the line to inch the Hornets closer. 

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Thibeault put the Hornets ahead when he put back an offensive board to make 37-36. 

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After one point from the free throw line for the Railsplitters, Ferrari passed to Caldwell, who drove through the paint and scored to make it 39-37 with 4:31 to play in the fourth.

The Hornets got the ball back and had a spirited possession where they rebounded the ball twice and had three chances to score. But they didn't. Lincoln went down the floor and tied the game at 39. The Railsplitters got the ball back and after an offensive rebound Gabe Damey hit the team's only three-pointer of the night to give Lincoln a 42-39 lead with 2:40 to play.

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Cooper Fairman made two free throws to get the Hornets within one with 2:25 to play.

Saline's defense got the ball back several times for the Hornets, but they missed several opportunities to tie the score with a three-pointer.

Lincoln added a couple of late points from the free throw line.

Saline hosts Carlton Airport at 2 p.m., Saturday.

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