By Nate Thompson

ZEELAND – The shorthanded Mona Shores girl’s basketball team was able to stay on the heels of a talented, one-loss East Kentwood squad through three quarters during the Class A regional semifinals on Tuesday.

But the Sailors couldn’t keep it up for a full four quarters, and East Kentwood turned a slim five-point advantage into a comfortable 57-43 victory at Zeeland East High School.

East Kentwood, which improves to 23-1, advances to Thursday’s regional championship game against either Hudsonville or Forest Hills Northern.

The Sailors, who had state title aspirations all season, finished with a sparkling 19-4 record.

Mona Shores had to shift its lineup because standout sophomore point guard Alyza Winston was sidelined with an undisclosed injury. Head coach Brad Kurth declined to discuss Winston’s injury or her impact on the outcome.

“For anyone who saw us play, and saw a kid out there (Winston) playing for 22 games and suddenly she’s not, if they said they thought we’d be even close in this game, they’d be lying,” Kurth said. “But my kids that had the courage to go out there and run to the roar and do what they did, they did an amazing job.”

Winston’s absence caused Mona Shores to use senior post player DeeDee Trotter at a guard position, and she answered the challenge by scoring nine points.

It also put more of a burden on Mona Shores senior guard Jordan Walker, the all-time leading scorer in the programs’ history.

The Miss Basketball finalist did her best to put the team on her shoulders, scoring a game-high 28 points.

Walker started out cold, missing her first six shots in the first quarter, and the Falcons took a 21-14 lead into halftime.

The Falcons bullied their way in the post with 6-foot-3 junior center Corinne Jemison, who scored nine of her 12 points in the first half.

But Walker willed the Sailors back into contention by scoring 11 points in the third quarter, including a corner 3-pointer right in front of the Sailors’ bench that swished just before the third-quarter buzzer.

The Falcons led 32-27 after three quarters.

East Kentwood got the boost it needed in the fourth quarter from its smallest player, 5-foot-4 sophomore Mauriya Barnes. She scored 13 of her 16 points in the fourth – none bigger than her straightaway 3-pointer with 6:27 left that gave the Falcons a 39-29 advantage.

“That kind of hyped us up a little bit,” Barnes said. “It was like, ‘Let’s go. We’re going to win this game.’”

Barnes did the rest of her damage down the stretch at the free throw line, sinking a stellar 10 of 12.

Walker praised her teammates for battling tough against the Falcons throughout the game.

“I’m really proud of my team,” she said. “We had our freshmen and sophomores that were called up to varsity really step up, and we had our senior post player (Trotter) playing over at the 2 (guard) and she did an incredible job.

“Other teams have the same goals (of winning a state title),” Walker added. “One team has to go home and tonight, we didn’t play our best.”

Kurth said Walker and the rest of the Sailors simply wore down in the fourth.

“With us being shorthanded, they’re going to drape Jordan with as many (players) as they can, and they made things really difficult for her,” he said. “Jordan had to do a lot of work on offense and a lot of work on defense.”

Kurth called the Western Michigan University-bound Walker “the best player in the history of Mona Shores High School.”

“No kid has a greater character than that kid,” he said. “The will to win, the will to fight, and she had the courage to go out there and do it tonight. I’m very proud of her.”