The Hornets came out in the second half like they were shot out of a canon, and used a 15-point run to defeat Belleville, 80-59, as the MHSAA Division 1 district tournament began Monday at Lincoln High School.
Saline (21-2) had surprising difficulty with Belleville (4-17) in the first half. The Hornets carried a 44-36 lead into halftime. But Saline engineered a 15-point run in the third quarter to take over.
“The first half wasn’t the way we wanted to start districts, but knew coming into the second half that we weren’t playing to not lose. We were playing to win,” Stemmer said. “The first two minutes (of the second half) were critical. We had to start off with that run and not them start off with a run.”
Saline plays Lincoln (4-16) Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. The winner of that game will play Pioneer or Huron in the district championship Friday.
The Hornets were led by Ella Stemmer (25 points, four rebounds, two steals, two assists) and their three seniors, Steffi Bentley (16 points, 13 rebounds, five assists and two blocks), Liz Sekerak (16 points, six rebounds and three assists) and Amera Boyd (seven points, six rebounds and four steals.)
Coach Leigh Ann Roehm said she was proud of the way the team played, especially in the second half.
“Every single playoff win is a big playoff win. All the records go out the window and everyone shows up believing ‘it could be me today,” Roehm said.
Brielle Eugeni (seven points, four rebounds), Natalie Sweetland (three points, three rebounds and two assists), Emily Wilczynski (two points), Sophie Canen (two points, five rebounds, three steals and four assists) and Ashytn Mosingo (two points) also scored. Beth Ann Ford had two rebounds and an assist.
Liz Sekerak, who had 13 of her 16 points in the first quarter, put Saline up for good with a three-pointer 2:05 into the first quarter. Still, despite leading for virtually the entire game, the pesky Tigers team forced off-balance shots and some throw-away passes and shot well from long distance to stay close to the Hornets.
After layups from Sekerak and Stemmer, Saline was up 10-4. Belleville answered with three points. Bentley made two layups and Stemmer made another as Saline took a 16-7 lead.
After a Belleville three, Sekerak hit her second three of the quarter to make it 19-10. After the Tigers trade baskets with Saline’s Emily Wilcyznski, who hit a long shot from just inside the arc, Belleville scored consecutive baskets to make it 21-16.
Sekerak and Canen replied with baskets for Saline. And after another Belleville basket, Sekerak hit her third three of the quarter. Saline led 28-21 after the first quarter.
Things started slowly for Saline in the second quarter. The Hornets had only a couple free throw baskets by Bentley as Belleville closed the gap to two, at 30-28.
That’s when Stemmer got. She scored with a speedy drive to the net along the right wing. Then, after a couple free throws by Belleville, she took a pass from Bentley and scored again. A moment later, Bentley passed to Stemmer, who hit a long jump shot to make it 36-30, Saline.
After a Belleville basket, Saline got a three from Canen and then a power drive through the middle from Boyd for two more points. Stemmer then hit a three to give Saline a 44-34 lead. Belleville closed the first-half scoring with a basket. Saline led 44-36 at halftime.
Boyd opened the third-quarter scoring with a free throw after taking a hard foul. Belleville replied with a basket to make it 45-38. That’s when the Hornets took over.
Again, it was Sekerak setting the table with a three.
“I’ve been working on my shooting a lot recently because I’ve been kind of struggling. So I wanted to start the playoffs well the right way, so we could continue going through playoffs,” Sekerak said.
Then Boyd charged through the lane for a layup. After that basket, she was fouled hard again, and went 1-for-2 on her free throws. Stemmer followed that with a three and a layup. Bentley put back an offensive rebound and then Stemmer hit another jump shot after taking a pass from Sweetland. Saline led 60-38 midway through the third - and that was the ball game.
Stemmer added a three-pointer and two shots from the stripe as Saline took a 65-46 lead into the fourth,
Bentley opened the fourth with a layup and a putback plus a foul shot to make it 70-48.
Down the stretch, Brielle Eugenie hit a three, a layup and a jump shot. Mosingo also had a basket.
Roehm said the lessons learned in Monday’s win could be important.
“The lessons we learned are going to help us in the matchups we have coming later in the week,” Roehm said.
The Saline Post 3 Stars
Ella Stemmer - If you look throughout the game, whenever Belleville made noise, Stemmer was there to reply with one or more baskets.
Steffi Bentley - Had a monster game underneath - using her height and reach to grab rebounds and put shots back. Also made several great passes.
Liz Sekerak - Fueled the Hornet attack when they really needed it early. Also jumpstarted the 15-point run in the third quarter that put the game out of reach.