Just when it looked like the Mendon girls basketball team was about to break Tuesday’s Class C state quarterfinal game against Gobles wide open early in the fourth quarter, the top-10-ranked Tigers boxed in the Hornets.
Executing a box-and-one it had worked on during the regular season specifically to slow down Mendon senior guard Brooke Howard, Gobles turned turnovers into points and capitalized on numerous trips to the foul line to turn the table in a 49-40 victory at Watervliet High School.
The Hornets, which ended the year with a 22-3 record, had a 34-27 lead after Alexis Russell back down a bucket in the paint with 7 minutes and 13 seconds left in the game. Gobles called a timeout and assistant Madeleine Doyle had an idea.
“We’ve been practicing a box-and-one for Brooke Howard [since] back in December before our game got canceled,” Tigers head coach John Curtis said of a regular season contest Gobles won that was delayed a couple weeks due to weather. “We had practiced it a little bit. One of my assistants said, ‘Brooke is having a great game; they run everything through her. How about a box-and-one?’ It’s good to have great assistants. We went box-and-one, they got out of a flow, Brooke got limited touches and other girls had to beat us.”
Both Howard and Jenna Griffith scored 14 points for Mendon. The duo finished with one combined field goal the final 7:13 — a Howard drive that that cut the deficit to 43-39 with a 1:02 left.
“I think that disrupted our rhythm,” Mendon coach Leasa Griffith said. “I thought that we had a lot of momentum going into the fourth and I think that kind of disrupted it. We didn’t think we could run anything against it and we’ve seen box-and-one before. Key turnovers at certain spots; the ball bounces in and out. A couple things go our way and maybe the score would have been different at the end.
“They took the momentum. That’s huge in a game like this. You get to that fourth quarter and you’re afraid to lose. You’ve got a lead; we’ve built a seven-point lead and we were afraid to lose that. We stopped doing the things that we had been doing before.”
The Tigers (26-0) scored 17 points in the fourth quarter, with sophomore Ellen Doyle leading the way. Doyle completed an old-fashioned 3-point play to put the Tigers out front by seven. A collision with Howard on a made basket was called a Mendon block, though it could have easily been a charge.
Doyle ended the night with 10 points, including four from the foul line in the fourth quarter. Michaela DeKilder led the Tigers with 13 points after a 6-for-6 effort at the stripe in the final frame. Mollee Nason chipped in 11 points.
Howard, who also had seven rebounds, said she didn’t focus on the call and that there were a myriad other moments that could have changed the outcome of the game.
“We gave up some key points, especially rebounding and down low we really needed to box out,” she said. “A couple points here and there is what makes a difference at the end.
“They definitely put up the pressure. When I can’t get the ball and help out my teammates, then we have a little trouble running the plays because the plays start with me bringing up the ball. It was definitely difficult and I think we struggled a little bit with that.”
Jenna Griffith notched four rebounds, two assists and five steals, Grace Leighton finished with six points, two boards and two assists, Rachel Frisbie recorded a basket, and Russell ended the night with four points, two assists and seven rebounds.
“This loss is especially hard because we were so close and just a few key plays would have changed the game,” Jenna Griffith said. “We fought until the end and that’s all you can do.”
Mendon, which had a 20-19 lead at halftime, shot 36.6 percent (15-for-41) from the field and only 15.4 percent (2-for-13) from behind the 3-point arc for the game.
With a one-point lead at the break earlier this year at Gobles, Mendon gave up a run from which they couldn’t recover. A 3-pointer by Nason Tuesday gave the Tigers a 27-25 lead with 4:26 left in the third quarter to fire up an energetic Gobles crowd.
Griffith tied it back up with steal and a layup and Leighton made one of two from the line to regain a one-point edge. A Leighton floater across the lane pushed the Mendon lead to 30-27 before Russell blocked a shot and Howard made two free throws on the other end for a 32-27 cushion going into the final eight minutes.
“What’s difficult about [the loss] is we were right there in place to get the win and then it slipped away,” Coach Griffith said. “If we would have been blown out it would have been a whole different story. Not that I would want to get blown out at all. It was right there. For eight of these girls, their season is done; their career is done.
“It’s all over. This is what every girl works for their entire basketball career is to be in a spot like this. We were there to win and just couldn’t pull it out.”