By Nate Thompson

NORTON SHORES  – In a girls’ basketball rivalry that’s been intense and unpredictable in recent seasons, one thing was certain:

Mona Shores senior Jordan Walker didn’t want to experience a loss during her final home game at the Sailor Center. Especially to rival Reeths-Puffer.

A determined effort from the Rockets made Walker and her teammates sweat it out to the final buzzer. But the Sailors escaped with a 44-42 victory in a key O-K Black Conference game on Friday, giving them the edge in the race for the league championship.

Mona Shores guard Jordan Walker goes up for the shot in the corner. Photo/Joe Lane

Walker was honored in a pre-game ceremony for being selected as a finalist for the state’s Miss Basketball Award, then went out and scored a game-high 21 points.

Mona Shores is now 15-3 overall and 8-1 in league play. The Sailors lead Reeths-Puffer and Muskegon by one game in the conference standings.

“This was a really big win for us, especially since they came out at their place and beat us, so to come back and beat them tonight is great,” Walker said after the game. “I don’t feel we played our best, but you know what, we came out with a ‘W’ and that’s all that matters.

“We’ll see if we see (Reeths-Puffer) again in districts. They’re a tough team.”

Reeths-Puffer coach Brandon Barry said he was extremely proud at the way his squad battled back late in the fourth quarter, especially when it appeared that the game was slipping away at times.

The Rockets hit the opening bucket of the second half, then went ice cold throughout the rest of the third quarter, going scoreless for nearly 7 ½ minutes.

But a 3-pointer from Brooke Larabee helped the Rockets claw to within 31-25 entering the fourth quarter.

The Sailors again seemed primed to pull away in the fourth. Sophomore guard Alyza Winston, who finished with 12 points, drained a corner triple to put the hosts up 38-30 with 6:07 to play.

The Rockets again fought back. Guard Elysia Mattos set up senior center Delaney Bolles for a layup with a nice dish in the paint, then canned a deep 3-pointer to bring Puffer to within 38-36 with 4:15 left.

Mona Shores had numerous chances down the stretch to put the Rockets away, but Walker was an uncharacteristic 3-for-8 from the free throw line in the closing 1:44.

Winston hit one of two free throws with 14.4 seconds left, giving the Sailors a 43-41 lead. On the ensuing possession, Reeths-Puffer freshman Lauren Ross made a strong drive to the hoop and was tripped, giving her a chance to tie the game.

But with a raucous Sailor student section in the background, Ross managed just a split at the line, leaving the score 43-42.

Walker was fouled again and hit the first of two shots to end the scoring. She missed the second shot, her teammate Ryleigh Wehler grabbed the rebound and missed a putback attempt, and the Rockets grabbed the loose ball. But time expired before they could get a shot off.

Delaney Bolles on the Reeths-Puffer block. Photo/Joe Lane

Barry said his squad will need a miracle to leapfrog the Sailors in the O-K Black. Mona Shores closes with road games against Kenowa Hills and Grand Rapids Union, the bottom two squads in the conference.

“However you want to look at it, we didn’t finish,” Barry said. “We didn’t shoot as well as we’re capable of, and that allowed them to collapse even more in the post.”

Mona Shores did a tremendous job of taking away the low-post scoring of Bolles, who burned the Sailors in their first meeting with 26 points.

She finished with just four points, and afterward Barry was concerned she may have suffered an MCL knee injury during a scuffle for a loose ball in the fourth quarter. Her knee was wrapped with ice after the contest.

Brooke Larabee picked up the slack for the Rockets, connecting on a trio of 3-pointers and totaling 17 points.