Just watching Thursday’s Class C girls basketball regional championship made one’s kidneys ache. Physically taxed to the limit, victory numbed a season’s worth of bumps and bruises and another 32 minutes of body blows for Mendon, which claimed its first regional championship in program history.
What initially appeared to be a blowout in the making against Adrian Madison turned tense in the second half, but the Hornets survived, 48-40, to move on to the state quarterfinals Tuesday against No. 6 Gobles in Watervliet.
“We came out the gate pretty hard defensively and offensively, taking open shots, so it looked like we weren’t at all nervous,” Mendon coach Leasa Griffith said. “Where before the game if I would have talked to anybody I would have said we looked a little bit tight, we looked a little bit nervous. I didn’t feel that way once the game started and we got on a roll.”
Mendon (20-2) had a 13-2 lead after the first quarter to put one foot on its opponent’s neck. But the resilient Trojans had other plans, keeping pace offensively to reach intermission down 22-11.
Haley Hudson found her rhythm in the third quarter with 10 points for Adrian Madison, turning up the heat on the Hornets. Back-to-back baskets by Grace Leighton put Mendon back up 12 points, but the Trojans’ Kendall Hudson banked in a 3-pointer at the horn to get it back to single digits.
“We saw it Tuesday night [vs. East Jackson] — a 12-point lead went right down to two within no time,” Coach Griffith said. “The way they were hitting those 3s in the fourth [quarter], it never felt comfortable.
More composed throughout a game where bodies hit the floor often, Mendon got some breathing room with a five-point spurt by Jenna Griffith, who finished with 13 points, six assists and six rebounds. And with Brooke Howard’s fade-away jumper off the glass pushing the Hornets to a 44-28 lead with six minutes to play,
That was before Adrian Madison (19-2) started banging treys at will. Maddie McNeil knocked down two, Haley Mellon added one and McNeil was fouled on a 3-point attempt with a minute to play, making two to get it to 47-40.
Brooke Howard buoyed Mendon on both ends of the floor, scoring 15 points and pulling down 15 rebounds, 14 of which were on the defensive glass. Leighton finished with eight points and two steals and Alexis Russell had seven points and 10 boards.
Rachel Frisbie notched four points in a matter of seconds in the second quarter — a series, like Jenna Griffith’s, that kept Adrian Madison in check.
“This is probably the best we’ve had with sharing the ball, looking down the floor, pushing the ball up and finding open people,” Coach Griffith said. “We talked all week about trust, trust, trust; we’ve got to trust one another and good things will happen. That’s what I thought happened tonight.”
Mendon shot 38.6 percent (17-for-44) for the game. Griffith knocked down three of the Hornets’ four triples. As a team, Mendon was 10-for-21 at the foul line.
Cierra Furlong added a point and five big rebounds and Jackie Friel registered a steal.
With two sprained ankles, a sore shoulder and recovering from a cold, adrenaline kept Howard going well after the final horn. Like her teammates, however, she’s ready to get some recovery time in.
“It was definitely a rough game,” she said. “This whole week has been a toll on our bodies. I think all of us kind of need to get in our own separate ice baths. You’ve got to deal with it, it comes and goes and you just have to keep playing. It’s a win; nothing hurts. You have to put in a lot of work and basketball is a physical sport. If you can’t take the toll on your body mentally and physically then you won’t make it. You’ve got to push hard.”
Jenna Griffith, who was fouled hard late in the fourth quarter and had to leave the game briefly, said the victory wasn’t just for the current players, but for every Mendon girl that ever took the court and never got to experience hoisting a regional trophy.
“We knew we wanted to do this for not just us for our families and our coach, because she has coached so many years and she deserves a regional title, we wanted to do it for everyone else that has played girls basketball.”