Sunday, February 5, 2023

Meg Leslie’s double-double propels Greenville girls hoops to come-from-behind win at Cedar Springs

Greenville senior Jordyn Keselring drives past a defender for a layup during Friday’s nonconference game against Cedar Springs on the road. Keselring had five points but tallied 11 rebounds, a block and a steal in the win. — DN Photo | Austin Chastain

CEDAR SPRINGS — Playing a game after a 39-point win earlier in the week is tough for any basketball team. Especially knowing the upcoming opponent is winless.

That’s what the Greenville girls basketball team was up against on Friday at Cedar Springs, the Yellow Jackets smacked Chippewa Hills, 58-19, earlier in the week and were coming to face a Red Hawk team that had yet to score more than 30 points.

While Friday’s final tally showed a 45-32 win for Greenville, there was plenty of challenge from Cedar Springs to get there. A 13-point win that took just about everything the Yellow Jackets had.

“We came out a bit sluggish (in the first half),” said head coach Andy Fedder. “Credit to Cedar, scrappy team. We hung in there defensively. The switching defenses gave us a little bit of an issue at first and we started to figure it out, we knew we had to play more inside-out — we had the looks all night long.”

The switching defenses was going from a zone to what is referred to as a “Triangle” defense, which Cedar Springs (0-5) used to put its two top defenders on senior Megan Leslie and junior Alexus Dunn. The look was meant to confuse the Yellow Jackets (4-0) and force them into mistakes or a missed shot.

Greenville freshman Alix Court pulls up on a fast break to look for a pass during Friday’s nonconference win at Cedar Springs. Court hit three 3-pointers as part of her 10 points; she also notched four steals, three assists and a block. — DN Photo | Austin Chastain

Greenville did struggle with the defensive look, but it still found a way to score and keep the game in striking distance. The lead changed hands several times in the first quarter after the Red Hawks broke the scoreless tie at the 6:22 mark. Freshman Alix Court hit the Jackets’ first field goal of the game with a sharp-shooting 3-pointer from the right wing. The Red Hawks, shooting the ball well from the perimeter, took the lead midway through the first quarter with a 3-pointer and foul by Dunn, who hit a 3-pointer on the other end in response.

The momentum from the long-range bucket carried the Red Hawks to a 14-13 lead at the end of the first.

Scoring for both sides cooled off in the second quarter. Just as Cedar Springs would go on a run, Greenville would respond in kind. The Red Hawks just couldn’t shake the strong-willed Yellow Jackets, who played with some more rigor in the second period. Cedar Springs, exuding confidence, threw some trash talk to Greenville, which the Jackets responded to.

“We got it in our heads that we could push through as a team, and that’s what we did,” said sophomore Annabelle Willhite. “That was what brought us to this one tonight. It’s working as a team, making sure that we don’t let what the ref calls or the other team says affect us.”

Greenville sophomore Annabelle Willhite turns to face the basket in the post during Friday’s 45-32 win over Cedar Springs. Willhite had five points and four rebounds in the win and provided a spark for the Yellow Jackets. — DN Photo | Austin Chastain

The Red Hawks confidence was justified, they kept hitting shots to keep them ahead on the scoreboard and drew the contact they needed to make trips to the free throw line. Cedar led, 22-19, at the break and seemed to have the momentum in their favor, but Greenville was in striking distance.

Friday’s third quarter brought more urgency from the Yellow Jackets, they knew they needed to change their game plan and their mindset to get them back in front. They also called on their senior leader, Meg Leslie, who came in and barreled through the Red Hawk defense to change the momentum in the game.

Possession after possession, the ball found its way into Leslie’s hands at one point or another. She utilized her strength and basketball IQ to either create a shot for herself or find a teammate to score. The Jackets regained the lead at 29-28 with 1:53 to go in the third off a floater from Leslie that bounced off the backboard, twice off the rim and in. A frenzied Yellow Jacket bench jumped up and celebrated their first lead since the late stages of the first quarter.

Greenville carried its 29-28 lead into the fourth quarter, and saw an opportunity to put the gas pedal down and end the game.

Fedder knew that if his team was going to win this game, it was going to take a lot of extra heart, one of those culture-defining wins that he has been working establishing now in his fourth season.

“This was a good game for us to test that mindset, that we’ve been trying to train our team culture,” he said. “I’m really proud of the girls tonight.”

Greenville junior guard Alexus Dunn evaluates the floor in the second half of the Yellow Jackets’ 45-32 win over Cedar Springs on Friday on the road. Dunn hit a pair of 3-pointers and hit a 15-foot jump shot to tally eight points on the night. — DN Photo | Austin Chastain

That pride matriculated into the team as it battled on the floor. Leslie broke free from the defense and drained a 3-pointer from the left corner, directly in front of her teammates on the bench, in the first 11 seconds of the fourth quarter. That shot set the tone for the rest of the quarter, Greenville knew it had Cedar Springs on the ropes and was going to keep swinging until the final buzzer.

The Yellow Jackets played with a reinvigorated energy in the second half, especially in the fourth quarter. The bench jumping up and cheering for teammates with every made shot or every call made their way. They were also supportive of one another, picking each other up with each missed shot or each whistle going the other way.

“I love the players, they’re all super nice,” Willhite said. “We get along great, they just bring that energy. We bring it to practice, it’s just so much fun because if you’re not cheering for your team it’s kind of more bummed out. When you’re up, cheering, getting up and screaming, it just adds energy and it’s super fun.”

Two other shots in the quarter seemed to put the game away — the first was a long-range 3-pointer from Dunn that slashed through the net. The other was a banked 3-pointer from Court in the corner with 6:43 to go in the game. The energy from the entire team was high after each of those shots.

The absolute final nail on the board came on a fast break with 2:48 to play. Dunn, after one of her three steals, fired a bullet pass to Jordyn Keselring, who scooped up a tough layup and forced a Red Hawk timeout. Another teammate frenzy.

Greenville walked off the floor in celebration back to the locker room, off to their best start under Fedder and their best start since starting 4-1 in the 2015-2016 season, the last time they won a district championship.

Greenville senior Makenzie Peterman drives past a defender on the baseline during Friday’s nonconference win over Cedar Springs. — DN Photo | Austin Chastain

“(Starting) 4-0 isn’t easy,” Fedder said. “We’re celebrating all the wins. We’re gonna celebrate this one and come back to play after Christmas.”

Leslie led the way for the Yellow Jackets with 17 points, 15 rebounds and five steals. Court had 10 points, four steals and three assists. Keselring had five points but grabbed 11 rebounds and had both a block and a steal. Dunn finished the game with eight points, five rebounds, three steals and an assist. Willhite had five points and four rebounds. As a team, the Jackets won the turnover margin, 19-15, and forced 12 steals.

A solid win in a tough game for the Yellow Jackets. Fedder and Willhite both know that they have to keep working on their game to keep it rolling.

“Just gotta show up to practice the next day,” Willhite said. “We just gotta win. We’ve got to show ourselves and prove to other schools, other teams and ourselves that we can win — definitely just keeping the energy high.”

“We can probably work a little bit better defensively,” Fedder said. “We had a few lapses. Over Christmas break, we’re gonna really work on situational stuff, just bring it back together to make sure we’re really hitting our level. I’m so proud of the girls, a really good team effort tonight.”

The Yellow Jackets are next slated to participate in the Candlestone Holiday Shootout on Dec. 28-29 at Belding.

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