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Forest Hills Central races out to 15-point halfime lead, holds on to upset Mona Shores, 50-43 in region semifinal

By: Dean Holzwarth, March 10, 2015, 10:00 pm

Grand Rapids – The Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central basketball team was the underdog entering Tuesday night’s Class A regional semifinal against a Muskegon Mona Shores squad that had dropped only three games all season.

The Rangers, however, played as though they were the ones expected to win.

Central used a hot shooting second quarter to open a big lead and pulled off a 50-43 upset victory over the Sailors at Grand Rapids Kenowa Hills.

The Rangers (15-9) will face Hudsonville in Thursday’s regional final. The Eagles defeated Byron Center 39-35 in the other semifinal.

“We had nothing to lose, and I think it gave us a lot of motivation to go out and prove people wrong,” said Central senior center Sophia Sanfillippo, who scored 14 points. “I just didn’t want (my career) to be over. When we got down, it made me work that much harder.”

The Rangers fell behind 7-2 early, but ended the first quarter on a 7-0 run.

The second quarter proved to be the turning point as Central shot 73 percent from the field (8-of-11) and closed the half with an 11-0 surge.

The Rangers made six consecutive shots in the final 2:30 and held Mona Shores to four points to grab a commanding 26-11 lead at halftime.

“The level of focus in tournament play has been amazing, and they’ve worked hard in practice to become disciplined and understand what we’ve been trying to do all season,” said first-year Central coach Kelvin Grady, a former Michigan basketball and football player.

“We were able to come out with high energy, and when you’re shooting like that, anything can happen.”

A steal and lay-up by junior guard Mackenzie Yob midway through the third quarter gave the Rangers a 32-15 cushion, but the Sailors battled in the fourth quarter.

Mona Shores (19-4) trimmed the deficit to 42-34 with 4:44 remaining on a 3-pointer from reserve guard Josalin Sanders-Walker, but Central didn’t waver.

A pair of key baskets by Sanfillippo and junior Rhea Thornton, who also had 14 points, thwarted Mona Shores’ comeback attempt.

“We’ve played in a lot of big games that have come down to the wire,” Grady said. “And it prepared us for games like this. Basketball is about runs, especially in tournament time, and the team that understands that wins. We kept our heads up and stayed focused.”

Jessica Fuller and Brittany Bowen added nine points apiece for Central, which struggled down the stretch and lost four of their final five regular season games.

“We’ve had our ups and downs, but I think we just outworked them tonight,” Sanfillippo said. “We let up at times, but overall we played a great game. We’ve been working for this all season.”

It was a disappointing end for the Sailors, who shot poorly throughout and went 4-of-18 from the field in the first half.

“In the tournament, when you lose, you want to go out playing your best, and you could see that our second quarter was atrocious,” Mona Shores coach Brad Kurth said. “This was not the team that was on a mission last week. Give FHC credit, they played very well and we just couldn’t buy a basket. We didn’t have that fire from within that we had last week.”

Sophomore Jordan Walker paced the Sailors with 12 points and Sanders-Walker finished with nine off the bench.