By Luke Sloan
YPSILANTI- Backs against the wall, on a downward spiral, Saline closed conference play on a sour note. The true character of a team shows when responding to adversity. Only the strong make it through.
Playing inspired, the relentless Hornets showed their strength, regaining their confidence versus Chelsea and upsetting mighty Ypsi. This tenacious run would continue into the districts, as the streaking squad took down Lincoln and knocked out Monroe. When a tough Belleville Tigers team came around in the finals, Saline left it all on the court once again, but this time they would fall, ending the remarkable run.
“We had a disappointing conference season,” said head coach Jake Fosdick. “We expect to beat the Ann Arbor Schools and we lost a couple close ones, we were going downhill. But for us to regroup and finish the regular season strong and make a little run in the districts was huge for us.”
The Hornets came out of the gate poised, leading the majority of the first and carrying that lead into the second with back-to-back threes from Trevor Arico and Griffin Yaklich, sealing a 16-13 lead and firing up the crowd.
“I’m really happy with how we played early,” Fosdick stated. “We talked about calming down and getting used to the atmosphere that we were playing in, our guys did a good jump of jumping into that. We got some buckets and applied some pressure, we were right there with them after one. That set the tone for the whole game.”
Belleville would respond early in the second, using their athleticism to fuel an 8-2 spurt and grab a 21-16 advantage. Saline would counter with a 7-2 run to cool the Tigers and only trail 29-25 heading into the halftime locker room. Embracing the circumstances, Yaklich led the Hornets with his 11 first half points.
“Griffin loves playing in the moment, he gets fired up for big opponents,” Fosdick said of his fearless guard. “He showed tonight that he can play against athletic guards. It’s great moving forward that we have a guard that can handle pressure and go into attack mode.”
Saline would take a small step back in the third, losing the quarter but still weathering the Belleville storm to trail by a reasonable margin, 41-35, heading into the crucial fourth. Connor Terech led the charge in the third, using his strength to score 11 points through three quarters.
“Their pressure picked up, we didn’t do a good enough job setting screens and getting guys open,” Fosdick said of his team’s third quarter effort. “We gave up offensive rebounds and timely turnovers got them in transition for some easy buckets.”
In the finishing moments the Tigers had yet another spurt in them, opening the fourth on a 9-4 run to grab a commanding 50-39 lead with 2:47 remaining. With their season in the balance Saline would refuse to quit one last time, cutting the lead in the final minutes but coming up short, losing 57-49 to close the season and end the memorable run.
“I’m really proud of how we hung around, it’s what we’ve done all year,” Fosdick said on the Hornets’ effort. “Our guys didn’t get bothered, they just kept playing. We took it one possession at a time, we just couldn’t get enough stops.”
Griffin Yaklich and Connor Terech each posted 13 points to lead the Hornet attack. Trevor Arico also pitched in, putting up 11 points on the strength of 3 three pointers. Michigan State bound Davion Williams shepherded the Tigers with his 18 points.
“Their (Belleville’s) guards were quick and athletic but he (Terech) was stronger than their bigs, he could finish around the rim with them,” Fosdick said of his Junior Forward. “He took advantage of that with a couple nice drives and finishes underneath.”
The season ending loss drops the Hornets’ overall record to 13-10 while their conference record remains at 3-7. Following the defeat, Fosdick took ample time to reflect upon the season and what his Seniors meant to the 2017-18 squad and the program as a whole.
“Our Senior class has been unbelievable. They came in with a lot of pressure on them because of how good our senior class was last year, I’m proud of how they created their own identity. Adam Heisler came back from a year where he didn’t play a whole lot but he gave us some big minutes this year. Erik Wenning was a quiet kid but this year he found his leadership style and became a vocal leader for us. I’ve never coached a varsity basketball game without Emmett Turner, he’s tough and he never quits, he resembles everything we want in this program. We’re going to miss all of them.”
Fosdick also reflected on the bright future of his program, pointing out hard work and dedication as the two qualities that his returning players will use in the offseason to prepare another run and further build the program.
“I see us returning a lot of talented guys. I see guys that are basketball focused that are going to feed off of this feeling of disappointment and get in the gym. We have enough guys that are going to push our program and regroup to go on another monster run next year.”