With four minutes to play in the game, Mendon’s girls basketball team had a comfortable 12-point lead in a Class C regional semifinal game against East Jackson Tuesday at Hillsdale High School.
The two distressing minutes that followed made the Hornets refocus like at no other point of the season — a season that was extended at least one more game after a 67-56 victory over the Trojans.
The win sets up a Thursday date with one-loss Adrian Madison, which beat Springport 59-47 in the other semifinal.
“They were firing the 3-point shots from unbelievable range,” Mendon coach Leasa Griffith said of East Jackson’s mid-stanza rally. “We’d be out on them but maybe didn’t have a hand up or we weren’t quite out as far as we should have been. They sunk some 3s, and when a team can hit 3s like that you don’t feel comfortable with any kind of a lead.”
The Trojans grew more and more confident on both ends of the floor, using different personnel groupings for offense and defense down the stretch. It wasn’t the only slightly unorthodox tactic employed by East Jackson late.
“With three minutes left [the Trojans’ coach] started using her timeouts to set up to foul us,” Griffith added. “I didn’t understand the strategy, but they got it down to at least three at one point.”
It was around the 1:40 mark that East Jackson made it a one-possession game, but the Hornets confidently stroked it from the foul line, finishing 16 for 23 from the stripe in the fourth quarter.
Brooke Howard and Grace Leighton registered 23 points, and Jenna Griffith also turned in a double-digit effort (14) points. Howard finished with a double-double after pulling down 15 rebounds (nine defensive), while Leighton was one shy with nine boards.
Both Howard and Griffith posted four assists.
“It for sure was a crazy night. They pressured the ball well and kept us on our toes,” Howard said. “Our free throws and drives kept us in the game.
“We practice and practice and practice our free throws, and sometimes it’s after we run because you need to still be able to hit them when you’re tired,” Leasa Griffith said. “Maybe we didn’t do all the things defensively we should have. Even offensively at times we got a little bit lazy with the ball. They were playing hard and it was very physical. Once it got down to five or seven I took a timeout and said this game’s not over. They buckled down. It came down to the experience the girls had.”
Mendon shot 38 percent (19-for-50) for the game, but it was a 25-for-38 effort at the foul line that kept its season alive.
A Lauren Samson free throw put Mendon up 31-30 at the break and the teams entered the fourth quarter tied up at 41-all.
“The game was intense,” Leighton said. “We stuck together as a team and trusted in each other well and went out and played hard. It was a close game the whole way through but I feel like we did a good job keeping our cool through it all. It was definitely fun to play in though.”
Added Jenna Griffith: “I thought we did good with playing our game and not rushing ourselves or letting it get to our heads. We had a lot of girls step up. The key to this win was staying composed. I’d say crazy just about sums the game up.”
Alexis Russell added four points and was ferocious on the boards (10), and Cierra Furlong scored two points and got her hands on three rebounds. Leighton finished 13-for-20 from the foul line and Howard made 9 of 13 from the stripe.
Kassidy Blough scored 17 points and Dominique Whitehead notched 13 for East Jackson, which was 16-for-22 at the foul line.