By Luke Sloan
ANN ARBOR – The Saline boys basketball team lost to the Ann Arbor Huron River Rats 61-54 in a clash of SEC red frontrunners. This meeting marks the last between these two competitors in regular season play, with the next coming in the highly anticipated district tournament.
The Hornets set the pace early, opening the game on a 7-0 run while dominating on both ends of the floor. Continuing their run, Saline held a formidable 13-3 lead over the flustered River Rats following five minutes of play. The Hornets were in their element through one quarter, having built a 21-11 lead on hustle, defense, and superior offensive execution.
“Huron is a press team, but tonight they played mostly man,” said Saline head coach Jake Fosdick. “We knew the type of man defense they played, so we were prepared and did a nice job of slipping and getting some easy looks early. Early on we executed very well.”
Out of the huddle, it was then Huron’s turn to shine, responding with an 11-2 run to begin the second quarter. Countering the Hornet’s style, the River Rats established their own pace of play, turning the contest into an up and down track meet. Huron elevated their intensity on defense, generating turnovers leading to easy buckets on the fast break. Despite losing the quarter 23-10 the Hornets headed to the halftime locker room only facing a three point deficit, trailing 34-31.
“Ryan (Foley) and Emmett (Turner) getting into early foul trouble hurt us,” said Fosdick. “We had lineups out there that we normally don’t have, which caused some confusion and turnovers. The run-outs Huron had made it a close game. Huron is a very good basketball team, they were obviously going to make their own plays.”
The first half theme of scoring runs was temporarily halted in the early moments of a tight third quarter, benefitting the gritty Hornets. As the third winded down Huron returned to the driver’s seat, leaving behind the new trend to regain control and win the quarter 13-10. This most recent Huron burst propelled the River Rats to a comfortable 47-41 lead over the reeling Hornets.
Huron, with substantial momentum on their side, entered the last quarter of play on the brink of sealing a victory. With their backs against the wall the Hornets responded, beginning the fourth on a 7-0 run to take a one point lead. Huron met the challenge with a 6-0 run of their own, reclaiming the lead 53-48. The River Rats would never look back, putting away the game at the stripe in response to Saline’s intentional fouls. The Hornets would draw within three points twice in the final seconds, but Huron once again executed on the line, edging the Hornets by a final score of 61-54.
“This game was similar to the Skyline game, it was a coin-flip game that unfortunately didn’t go our way. We are lucky to play Huron again in nine days, everyone in this locker room is very confident in what we can do against them.”
Calder Pellerin was a bright spot for the Hornets, scoring 9 points in the opening quarter en route to leading all scorers with 20 points. Emmett Turner also pitched in, shaking off foul trouble to put up 12 points. Jake Finkbeiner and Justin Zylstra both added to the Hornet scoring attack, scoring 9 and 7 points, respectively.
This loss drops the Hornets overall record to 13-6 and their conference record to 6-4. The Hornets will next be in action Tuesday night, when they entertain the Chelsea Bulldogs in an intriguing senior night matchup.
“Chelsea plays a similar style to Huron, they are a trapping team and a zone team, our preparation for Huron should help with the Chelsea game because we have a short time to prepare for Chelsea.”
As the regular season comes to a close the Hornets will now look to translate their success into the district tournament. The Hornets first district challenge presents a unique opportunity, as Saline gets another shot at the Huron River Rats within days of a previous matchup. Heading into the meaningful month of March, coach Fosdick knows the keys to success in playoff basketball.
“Playing a team twice in such a short span is nothing I’ve done before, tonight was an emotional, fun game to play in and it will happen again soon. Playoff basketball comes down to getting hot, who’s rested and healthy. In that aspect we are in good shape, we have no major injuries and time to recover,” said Fosdick on his team’s postseason chances. “It comes down to the fact that we have to shoot the ball better, we missed some easy ones tonight and had a lot of time to get a lot of shots up. March comes down to a basketball scoring game, we have to score the basketball better to win games.”