By Andrew Johnson
HUDSONVILLE – They say defense wins championships.
The Mona Shores girls basketball team has not won a regional title yet. But a smart defensive strategy at the end of Tuesday’s 61-59 overtime win over Grand Rapids Christian in a Class A regional semifinal put the Sailors a victory away from accomplishing that goal.
With 14.7 seconds remaining in overtime and the score tied 59-59, Grand Rapids Christian called a time out before inbounding the ball under the basket.
When the two teams took the floor, Mona Shores looked at how Christian set up for the next play, then called a timeout of its own.
“I was really worried because it’s so hard to defend a baseline out of bounds because they’re four feet away from the basket,” said Mona Shores Coach Brad Kurth.
Christian managed to inbound the ball, but Mona Shores’ Jordan Walker tipped a pass and gained possession. Walker then tossed the ball downcourt to a sprinting Alyza Winston, who scored the deciding points on a layup with seven seconds remaining.
“I felt like I was going to slip but I knew I had to finish it,” said Winston, a freshman who finished with a game-high 32 points. “It’s crunch time so I knew I had to go.”
The Eagles quickly inbounded the ball and got down to the free throw line before a last second shot was thrown up. The ball bounced off the rim and came down as time expired, prompting an excited and relived Sailor bench to rush the court and celebrate the victory.
Mona Shores will play Hudsonville in Thursday’s regional title game, with a trip to the Class A state quarterfinals on the line.
The Sailors lost in the first round of regionals last year, and Kurth very much wanted his team to make it further this time around.
“We want to win this year and not just come back with participation trophies,” he said.
The Sailors maintained a lead for most of the first quarter and had a 17-10 advantage at the buzzer.
But they were outscored 21-6 in the second quarter and faced a 31-23 halftime deficit.
“We had a horrible second quarter and just didn’t really play defense after playing great defense in the first quarter,” Kurth said.
Mona Shores woke up after halftime and cut its deficit to 42-39 at the end of the third quarter. The Sailors exploded for a 10-5 run in the middle of the quarter, which started with two free throws and a 3-pointer from Walker.
Mona Shores took a 44-42 lead only a minute into the quarter after Winston hit a triple and Walker followed up with a jumper.
The game was tied 51-51 with 1:14 remaining. Neither team was able to score another point in regulation, forcing the overtime period.
Grand Rapids Christian opened the extra session with a three-pointer from Mariah McCully to take a 54-51 lead.
Mona Shores responded with a triple from Walker to tie the game.
Following a defensive stop, Winston gave Shores a 57-54 lead with a 3-pointer of her own.
McCully responded with yet another triple to tie the game at 57-57, then Christian took a two-point lead on a layup by Jocelyn Taylor with 1:47 left.
Mona Shores turned the ball over on the next possession. The Eagles dribbled the clock down to 37 seconds before turning it over to Winston, who raced downcourt for an open layup to tie the game 59-59 with 32 seconds remaining.
Walker got her game-changing steal with 14.7 seven seconds left, then passed it to Winston, who scored the winning bucket.
Winston and Walker combined for 57 of the Sailor 61 points. Walker finished with 25.
“In the beginning I had an air ball and a missed layup,” Winston said. “When I got hot I just wanted the ball to keep it going.”
“I was just feeling it tonight, I came to play and I wanted this win because I didn’t want our story to end like this,” Walker said.