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Midland Dow continues road mastery over Heritage, knocking off No. 1-ranked Hawks

By: Matthew B. Mowery, February 1, 2019, 11:20 pm

SAGINAW TOWNSHIP — Depending on the source, the exact number of consecutive wins recorded by the Midland Dow on Saginaw Heritage’s home floor differed a bit.

Regardless, all that mattered to the No. 1-ranked Hawks was that it was too many.

And all that mattered to the Chargers, an honorable mention in Division 1, was that it continue Friday night.

It did, as the Chargers continued their run of good fortune on the floor of Heritage’s Seese Gymnasium, known as ‘The Hawks’ Nest,’ by building a 10-point halftime lead on Molly Davis’ hot shooting, and holding on through a nail-biting final few minutes for a 52-48 win.

“I think we’ve won five in a row on this court now. … It is (odd), but they’ve beaten us like five times in a row on our court,” Dow coach Kyle Theisen said.

“This is a huge game for us. We obviously didn’t start the year the way we wanted to, losing to Pewamo(-Westphalia), we didn’t play our best game, and it’s kind of like we’ve just been hanging out in the weeds, waiting on it. Because we’ve been kind of able to roll over some teams since then, had a lot of big wins, and everybody’s kind of forgotten about us. And that’s kind of been a nice thing for us to be able to — we know in our own gym that we can play with anybody in the state, but nobody’s really talking about us, nobody’s really thinking about us, simply because of one loss against one of the best teams in the state.

“Now, all of a sudden, we had a chance to show how good we are, and how much better we’ve gotten since that point.”

The loss snapped Heritage’s 20-game winning streak, dating back to the end of last regular season, when the Hawks dropped a two-point decision to eventual Class C champion Detroit Edison, before ripping off 10 straight wins to win the Class A title.

The year before that, Dow beat Heritage twice on the road, once in the regular season to clinch the league title, and again in the district semifinals.

It’s perplexing to Heritage coach Vonnie DeLong — especially since the Heritage student section was participating in the MHSAA’s Battle of the Fans competition Friday night, and even more fired up than normal.

“This should be a huge home-court advantage. It used to be, for our teams, when I first got here, the first three or four years. For some reason, this group of kids, we do not play well here. We play better on the road,” said DeLong, agreeing that the round gymnasium, with open ends and no shooting background is normally hard for a visiting team to get used to. “Yeah, it’s hard to play. It should be an advantage. And, against a lot of teams, it is, but …”

Friday’s win puts the Chargers (11-1, 4-0 Saginaw Valley League Red) in the driver’s seat in the divisional race, with a leg up on the Hawks (10-1, 3-1).

It does give the Chargers a profile boost across the state, for people maybe judging them on that one loss to P-W back on Dec. 8, when they shot 20 percent.

But it also boosts the case of Davis as one of the top players in the senior class.

She was on fire in the first half, connecting for six 3-pointers, en route to 22 points, helping Dow to a 30-20 lead at the break. She finished with 29.

“She came out and I thought, tonight, Molly clearly established herself as the best player in the Valley, and a Miss Basketball candidate,” Theisen said. “So, in this environment, against the No. 1 team in the state, to dominate the game the way she did, if anybody watches the game, there’s no doubt in my mind, she’s a Miss Basketball candidate, with that performance.”

If anything, halftime coming when it did — right after Davis drilled her sixth 3-pointer — helped only Heritage, since it was hard to imagine the Dow senior coming out just as hot in the third quarter.

“Yeah, that was pretty disappointing. I was getting in my rhythm. But we came out in the second half, and executed our game-plan, kept our composure,” said the normally stoic Davis, who made sure she kept her teammates’ emotions in check at halftime, but let her own slip out a little bit at the end, with a dramatic fist-pump to the cameras.

“Beating them gives us a lot of momentum going into the other teams we’re going to face. Gotta love it.”

Dow’s gameplan was to face-guard Heritage’s Miss Basketball candidate, Mo Joiner, and close out on the rest of the Hawks’ shooters. That job fell primarily to freshman Alexa Kolnitys, with help from Jada Garner and Chloe McVey.

“Jada and Alexa both. Alexa, a freshman coming in, we’re saying ‘You gotta go guard Mo. She’s playing in the Big Ten next year, and you’re a freshman. Good luck,’ basically. And she did great. Then when she got tired, and in foul trouble, Jada came in and did the same thing. And you saw Chloe (McVey) come in and get a minute here or there, just to chase her around and make her tired,” Theisen said. “We didn’t think we were going to hold Mo scoreless, but we wanted to make her work really hard for what she got, and I think we did that. You saw, she’s working her butt off to get any space at all, and Molly’s coming down, hitting open shots. We’re making them work for every point, and our points are kind of coming a little easier.”

Joiner still finished with 20 points, eight of that in the fourth quarter.

“That’s normal. It’s everybody else that needed to play their game that we didn’t get anything from tonight — or not as much as we should have,” DeLong said. “Honestly, Molly and Maizie (Taylor) are going to score — they’re good players. As long we shut everybody else down, we should be OK. We did that. But offensively, we killed ourselves, because we didn’t play as a team tonight. It happens. Credit Dow.”

The Chargers got 15 from Taylor to complement Davis’ scoring, but the Hawks kept the ball out of their hands in crunch time, forcing the younger Chargers to the line to try to seal the game when Dow took the air out of the ball and slowed it down over the final three minutes. Dow went 7 of 15 from the line in the fourth, making it tougher to close out the win.

With Dow scoring just three points over the final 4:10, Heritage cut it to just one, 49-48, on Mallory McCartney’s 3-pointer with 40.7 left.

Garner hit both free throws with 32.5 seconds left, and Taylor split from the line with 11.7 left to sew up the win.