By Nate Thompson
NORTON SHORES – Maybe they were experiencing some early-winter blahs, or maybe they just needed a stern wake-up call.
Whatever the reason, after a sluggish first half against host Mona Shores on Friday, the Reeths-Puffer girls basketball team dialed it up a notch in the final two quarters and claimed a 43-29 victory on Friday in an O-K Black Conference matchup.
The Rockets had just an 18-16 lead at the half, but held the Sailors scoreless through the opening four minutes of the third quarter, and held them without a field goal in the fourth until just before the game-ending buzzer.
The Rockets’ full-court pressure and zone defense frustrated the Sailors throughout the second half, leading to a comfortable final margin on the scoreboard.
But Rockets head coach Brandon Barry said he wasn’t feeling too comfortable going into halftime, after his team seemed to be going through the motions in the first half.
“We definitely had to pick up the intensity and effort defensively,” said Barry, whose squad improved to 6-2 this season. “Shores moved the ball well and hit some shots and we just were slow reacting. Even offensively, coming into tonight, we were running some nice half-court stuff, but it was sluggish tonight.
“Give credit to Shores. They jammed us up a little bit and didn’t give us some open looks. But we were stagnant, a little slow moving the ball. And it almost cost us.”
The Rockets are at their best when they are able to force turnovers and allow junior wing Lauren Ross to lead the fast break in transition.
Those scenarios were much more common for the Rockets in the second half. Ross, who is battling through a painful bruised tailbone injury from a recent fall on the ice, led all scorers with 20 points and also dished off six assists.
“When our posts are flying up the court (out wide) and I can bring it up the middle, finishing or finding teammates for some wide-open layups, that’s definitely when we’re at our best,” Ross said.
A straightaway three-pointer from Sailors’ sophomore Riley Rosenthal near the third-quarter buzzer trimmed Shores’ deficit to 28-23, but that’s when the Rockets began to take over. Reeths Puffer went on an 11-0 run and the Sailors didn’t score until Rosenthal made two free throws with 1:28 remaining.
The Rockets’ most impressive stretch came early in the fourth. During three consecutive possessions with under five minutes left, Ross found Bridget McHugh for a fast-break layup, Ross got a steal and breakaway layup, and then she swiped another steal and heaved a full-court pass to McHugh for another easy layup.
McHugh finished with seven points, while senior guard Emily Caltagirone totaled eight for the Rockets.
Rosenthal tallied 14 points to lead the Sailors, who fell to 1-7 this season.