This isn’t the first time the River Rats have faced adversity this season.
Between a delayed start, a team-wide quarantine, and a compressed conference-only schedule, the 2021 MHSAA basketball season has been far from normal for Ann Arbor Huron.
On Thursday, Huron was presented with more adversity: down two starters and more than half its varsity roster out due to COVID concerns, No. 2 Huron (15-0) defeated Saline 46-34 in the district semifinal at Ypsilanti Lincoln.
“We’ve been overcoming adversity all year,” said Huron head coach Waleed Samaha. “This is nothing new for us.”
That’s not to say the missing players were completely absent from the team.
“We got encouragement from players not with us today,” said Huron center Kingsley Perkins. “We used that feel-good energy and persevered.”
Sophomores Enkidu Anthony and Braylon Dickerson started for Huron Thursday, replacing seniors Tyson Edmondson and Brandon Rawls. Each scored six points for the Rats. Huron also called up seven freshman and sophomores to its varsity roster.
“I can’t say enough about what the young guys did tonight. To be thrown into the fire like that and respond the way they did, I was really impressed,” Samaha said.
Huron advances to the District final, where it will face Lincoln (10-3), who won its district semifinal match over Belleville, 59-52. The game tips off at 7 p.m. at Lincoln High School. Huron swept Southeastern Conference foe Lincoln in the regular season, with the Rats winning both by over 30 points.
Huron will need to overcome adversity again as the River Rats will play the District final once again shorthanded.
Coincidentally, Huron was set to face Lincoln in the district final last year, but the remainder of the tournament was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Samaha said that though the matchup will look different from last year, it would still be a great game.
“We have a lot of respect for [Lincoln] coach Jesse [Davis] and what he’s done with his program,” Samaha said. “We hope we’re right there at the end with a chance to win it. We know what we’re up against, we know how good they are, and we know they’re going to be tough here at home.”
Seniors Devin Womack, Julian Lewis, and Perkins, Huron’s holdovers Thursday from its usual starting lineup, were major contributors in the victory. Womack led all players with 21 points, Lewis added nine, and Perkins was a shot-blocking machine and added four points for the Rats.
Saline jumped out to an early 6-2 lead midway through the first quarter, and a cold-shooting Huron looked to be in trouble. That’s when Dickerson stepped up for the Rats, hitting two 3’s a mere 41 seconds apart to put Huron briefly ahead. Saline led 11-10 after the first quarter.
Huron returned to its usual dominant form in the second quarter, holding the Hornets to four points, including two free throws after Huron received a technical foul. Huron never trailed after Womack hit a three 22 seconds into the second quarter, in which he scored eight points.
Huron led 25-15 at halftime after a 15-point offensive explosion in the second quarter.
Huron saw several players enter the scoring column in the third quarter. Womack made two 3’s, Anthony scored four points, and Lewis converted a reverse layup for the Rats.
Saline hung around, thanks to a solid performance from junior guard Braden LaRusso, who scored four of his eight points in the quarter for the Hornets.
Saline’s Jaden Pickett also had a great game, scoring nine points in his final game for the Hornets.
Huron led 37-24 after the third quarter.
Huron effectively sealed the game early in the fourth quarter. After Anthony made a layup in the final second of the third quarter, Perkins blocked a shot to start the quarter, and Womack quickly scored three points.