The Williamston Hornets had made it to the semi-finals at the Breslin Center in East Lansing last year, but this year came up just 1 basket short ending their great season. With the game tied at 51 against the River Rouge Panthers and the clock winding down, it was the Panthers Darian Owens-White hitting a 3 point shot with what would be the go-ahead game-winning basket, edging out the Hornets 54-51.
It was a very good game right from the tip-off. River Rouge came out strong and fast but the Hornets of Williamston didn’t panic and got right back into the game when Sophomore Sean Cobb hit 2 back to back 3-pointers to cut the Panthers lead to 1 after the first.
The Hornets defense was strong in the second giving River Rouge fits and keeping the Hornets within stinging distance. With the score tied at 20, with two and a half minutes left to go in the first half, Junior Cole Kleiver hit a huge 3 -point bucket to give the Hornets their first lead of the game. In front of a huge green and white-clad crowd, the Hornets took a 27-27 tie into the half, something the 25-1 Panthers have not had to deal with all season.
After the half, the Panthers scored early and held the Hornets to just two field goals while outscoring them 13-4 over the first 7:58 of the quarter until a Kleiver layup at the buzzer made it 40-33 entering the fourth.
“I warned them at halftime and said, ‘We really need to win the first four minutes coming out,'” Williamston coach Tom Lewis said. “I just had a feeling they were going to come with a different level. A lot of seniors on the other side of the floor and they did that, we struggled to score, had some messy possessions, they hit some shots … (Owens-White) just killed us with a lot of big baskets.”
In the 4th, the Hornets defense was swarming forcing turnovers and bad shots. The Panthers started to panic as the relentless Hornets fought back and with just over a minute left Cobb drove to the basket for 2 and was fouled. He hit the free throw giving the Hornets a 51-49 lead with time running out. The Panthers were able to tie it up and with the Hornets playing for the last shot, what happened next will be talked about for quite a while.
Freshman Mitchell Cook took a pass and drove the baseline and put up a beautiful underhanded shot that went in as he was knocked hard to the floor. But instead of a Hornet lead, the possibility of a 3-point play, and quite possible certain victory was snatched away as the official called Cook for a charge, even though his defender had never established position and was not set.
It was then that Owens-White hit his 3 point shot and with only 3 seconds left, the Hornets launched a deep 3 as time expired that just missed bringing their excellent season to a very sad end.
The Hornets finish the season with a great 21-5 record. They will graduate 5 seniors but will be bringing back a bevy of young talent. Kleiver led the Hornets with 21 points, Cobb finished with 17 and 5 rebounds and 2 big blocked shots, while Sy Barnett finished with 11 points. Cook played an outstanding defensive game with 3 steals, 5 assist, and a big shot made in the 3rd to help keep his team in the game.
River Rouge will travel to the Breslin Center in East Lansing where they will take on the 24-2 Ludington Orioles who defeated Lake Fenton tonight.