By Justin Haggerty

NORTON SHORES – It takes a great deal of perseverance to win a championship.Midnight sun featured imagelsj-fb-logo

The Mona Shores girls basketball team demonstrated that on Friday night.

The Sailors (17-3 overall, 9-1 conference) had already captured a share of the O-K Black Conference title, which was their third straight. But to keep the trophy to themselves, they had to get past a very good Reeths-Puffer team that wanted a share of the championship.

Alyza Winston goes up for Mona Shores. Photo/Marc Hoeksema

Alyza Winston goes up for Mona Shores. Photo/Marc Hoeksema

It wasn’t easy, particularly when the Rockets opened up a 13-point lead in the third quarter, but Mona Shores stormed back and claimed a 54-51 victory and the outright conference title in front of a home crowd estimated at 1,400.

“We faced so much adversity in this game,” said Mona Shores head coach Brad Kurth. “We talked about it before the game. They’re going to take stuff away from us, they’re going to make us do things we don’t want to do.

“It’s all about whether you persevere through those trials and failures and continue to play defense and do great things on the court to give you a chance to win. We didn’t play that well, a number of players didn’t play that well, but we found a way to win.”

The game started out well for the visitors. R-P led 14-6 after one quarter and held the all the Sailors scoreless except junior standout Jordan Walker.

Walker’s six first-quarter points were matched by the Rockets’ Elysia Mattos.

Reeths-Puffer led by nine points twice in the second quarter and 28-23 at halftime. Delaney Bolles scored 10 points in the quarter for the Rockets. Walker had 16 in the first half for Mona Shores.

Mona Shores shot just 26 percent from the field in the first half and missed 10 of 13 free throw attempts.

The Rockets started the second half red-hot, hitting their first four shots and extending their lead to 13 points, 36-23, two minutes into the third quarter.

That was when Walker put her team on her back. She scored nine of the Sailor’s 16 points, which helped cut their deficit to 43-39 entering the final quarter.

Walker also committed her fourth foul in the waning seconds of the third and had to play the entire fourth quarter without committing another.

As hot as the Rockets were in the third quarter, they were equally cold in the fourth. R-P hit just one of its first eight shots and only 3 of 15 in the quarter.

Artrese Williams goes up for the Sailors. Photo/Marc Hoeksema

Artrese Williams goes up for the Sailors. Photo/Marc Hoeksema

That allowed the Sailors to rally and grab their first lead of the game with 3:58 to play. The game was tied 51-51 with 2:13 remaining.

Each team missed three-point attempts before Reeths-Puffer committed a costly turnover with 1:14 to play. Mona Shores freshman Alyza Winston then hit a bucket to put the Sailors up 53-51, a lead they did not relinquish.

Walker hit a free throw with five seconds left to put Shores up 54-51. Walker finished with a game high 27 points, eight rebounds, four assists and two steals.

“She played the entire fourth quarter with four fouls, how smart is that,” Kurth said about Walker. “I’m just so proud of this kid for persevering through trials and (ACL tear) difficulty.

“She didn’t complain at all, all season long. Talk about a kid who had a right to complain and feel sorry for herself, but she’s tough as nails, she never let that bring her down.”

Reeths-Puffer Coach Brandon Berry was disappointed in the outcome, but knows his team has districts next week and a chance to make a run in the state tournament.

“We managed the clock like a bunch of middle schoolers,” said Barry, whose team finished the regular season 15-5 overall and 7-3 in the O-K Black. “We had a (13 point) lead and blew it by taking quick shots and not rebounding. When we had things rolling, we should have put them away.

“Total self-destruction, we’re feeling pretty disappointed in ourselves right now. You can tell at times that we’re the best team in the area, there’s no doubt about it in my mind, but we don’t play 32 minutes and that hurts us.”

Winston finished with 12 points, three assists and three rebounds despite being in early foul trouble.

Mona Shores freshman Nia Miskel finished the game with eight points and more importantly 15 rebounds, including five down the stretch.

Reeths-Puffer was led by Bolles with 15 points. Mattos finished with 12 and Artrese Williams had 11.

Brooke Larabee pulled down 12 rebounds for the Rockets.