Regular season victories don't get much sweeter than Saline's 65-54 win at Huron Tuesday.
It was Saline's first victory in a long, long time. At least 20 years, said Saline coach Leigh Ann Roehm. Records on the MHSAA website go back to 2009-10. The Hornets were 0-10 at Huron from 2009-10 to 2018-19.
It was also Saline's fifth straight win since dropping two of four games - the only two games they lost all season - between Jan. 14 and 28. The Hornets improved to 15-2 - the most wins they've had in a long, long time.
The victory over Huron gave the Hornets a clean sweep in their "revenge tour." Saline lost to Bedford on Jan. 14 and lost to Huron 60-56 on Jan. 28. They rebounded to beat Bedford, 47-38, on Feb. 7 and now they've beaten Huron, too. It's probably too late for the Hornets to salvage an SEC Red crowd. The Hornets would need the Pioneers to upset the River Rats to have a chance at a share of the crown.
Perhaps most importantly, the victory should give the Hornets a psychological lift as they head into playoff district where Saline and Huron will be the favorites to meet in the championship game. Coach Roehm, of course, isn't about to let her team look beyond the Feb. 21 game against Skyline or next week's games against Dearborn Heights Crestwood or Tecumseh. Still, she admits, this win was important.
"In the tournament, anything can happen. We are not discounting all those teams that we could play. What I will say is that winning this game tonight gives us that mental edge, that confidence that says 'we've got this,'" Roehm said.
Junior Ella Stemmer led the Hornets. Fresh off a game when she reached 1,000 points for her career, Stemmer continued piling up the points. She scored 24 points to go with five rebounds, four steals, and two assists. Senior Steffi Bentley scored 12 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. Liz Sekerak scored 10 points and had give rebounds, four assists and two steals. Sophie Canen added 10 points, five rebounds, two steals and two blocks. Amera Boyd also scored eight points and had three rebounds. Natalie Sweetland added a point and three rebounds.
Saline built a 21-14 lead in the first quarter but let Huron close the gap to 39-36 at halftime.
"In the first half they were fighting for those balls and getting those rebounds and playing with more heart than us. So we knew we had to get to those loose balls and fight for those rebounds and take good shots because in the final minutes, those things count," said Stemmer.
Huron started the third quarter by scoring six straight points. But Saline started winning the 50-50 battles and kept the River Rats from making a field goal for nearly 12 minutes.
Stemmer made a long jump shot to get the Hornets to within one, at 42-41. Then she came up with a steal under the Huron basket and put it back up for two. Saline led 43-42 with 3:01 to play in the third quarter. The basket put the Hornets up for good. Sweetland made a free throw. Then Sekerak fed Bentley for a layup. Saline went up 46-42. The River Rats made a late free throw make it 46-43.
The fourth quarter began with Boyd blocking a potential game-tying three-pointer from the corner. The Hornets raced down the floor and missed their shot - but Bentley grabbed the rebound and scored. A short time later, Boyd inbounded a pass to Bentley for a layup and a 50-43 lead. The run wasn't over yet. Stemmer rebounded Boyd's three-point attempt and put it back. Midway through the quarter, Boyd went end-to-end and scored on a drive through the paint. Saline led 54-43.
The River Rats pushed back. They got to within four points with 1:25 left to play. But Saline sealed the deal with free throw shooting. Stemmer went 6-for-6 from the stripe in the final 1:55. Sekerak, Boyd and Canen also had points from the line in the final two minutes.
The Saline Post 3 Stars
1. Ella Stemmer - Along with leading the offense game in, game out, Stemmer is also developing a penchant for making big plays at crucial points in the game. When she stole the ball from a sure-handed River Rat and put it back to give the Hornets the lead in the third quarter, it defined the game.
2. Steffi Bentley - Bentley took her rebounding and scoring to a higher level late in the third and early in the fourth as the Hornets took over. She had six of Saline's points during the 15-1 run that turned the game upside down.
3. Liz Sekerak - Canen and Boyd deserve credit, the but the defensive-minded Sekerak is often worthy of praise when she doesn't score. So when she scores 10 points and grabs five rebounds and dishes for four assists - well, she gets a star.