HUDSON — It may have been their best opening quarter of the season.
But the Lady Explorers had a noxious feeling in the pit of their stomachs right before it ended.
Hudson’s best shooter, junior guard Emma Messina, had a nasty collision and suffered an injury near her knee.
Messina limped off the court and did not return.
So how did the Lady Explorers respond against a team that has been playing some of its best basketball in recent years?
Just fine, thank you.
The host Hudson girls basketball team ended its seven-game losing streak with a hard-fought 44-42 victory over Cuyahoga Falls Monday evening at Ray "Buck" Hyser Gymnasium.
With the win, the Lady Explorers improved to 3-8 overall and 2-5 in the Suburban League National Conference. The Lady Black Tigers dropped to 6-6 overall an 2-5 in the conference.
Hudson stormed out of the gates to a 16-4 lead. The Lady Explorers moved the ball effectively and their defense made Falls’ ball-handlers extremely uncomfortable in the early going.
Hudson also crashed the glass and got loose balls, which led to some fast breaks on the other end.
But then it happened.
Messina collided with a Lady Black Tiger player and went down to the floor in pain.
"She has to go see a doctor," Lady Explorers head coach Dennis Lawler said. "Her knee is stable. It looks like some sort of muscle pull."
Since Messina’s injury took place in front of their eyes, the rest of the Hudson players were noticeably shaken by what they saw.
It sure didn’t look like it once play resumed.
The Lady Explorers continued to play at a high level and when junior forward Dai’Shunai Steward scored a layup off an assist and steal from senior guard Lorenza Chiarappa, they had a 23-6 advantage.
"I was pleased with how well they rallied around her," Lawler said. "They showed a lot of concern. Everybody went down to see her. That shows how much we’ve grown as a team."
Hudson didn’t relinquish its lead the rest of the way, but the Lady Explorers, who have had their problems on offense throughout the season, had a couple of letdowns that let the Lady Black Tigers back in the game.
In fact, when senior guard Kayla Huffman made a free throw, Falls’ deficit was just four (29-25) with 2:27 left in the half.
However, whenever the Lady Black Tigers got dangerously close, Hudson had a knack for getting a critical basket when it really needed it.
The Lady Explorers’ advantage was back up to seven (41-34) early in the fourth quarter. Once again, Falls showed its mettle and it was just a one-point game (43-42) when senior guard Leslie Sawyer buried a 3-pointer from the left side with less than a minute left.
Nonetheless, the Lady Black Tigers, who never had the lead from start to finish, missed a 3-point shot on their next possession.
Falls had one last hope with 3.2 seconds, but sophomore guard Chelsea Huffman’s shot from near half court, was blocked as time expired.
"We can’t afford to not play four full quarters," Lady Black Tigers head coach Joe Nowak said. "We won the last three quarters, but we dug ourselves too deep of a hole that’s really tough to get out of.
"I thought they did a great job of battling back. We gave ourselves a shot to tie or win it. When you have an uphill battle for three quarters, it’s tough to come out on top."
Falls lived and died with the 3-point shot down the stretch.
The Lady Black Tigers had several chances to trim Hudson’s lead, but a large majority of those shots found either iron, the backboard or the floor. Falls was just 1 of 13 from beyond the arc in the final eight minutes.
"We settle at times," Nowak said. "At the same time, we had some good looks. I’m not going to tell our girls not to shoot it.
"When they (the Lady Explorers) went to a zone, they did a good job of taking us away from the basket."
Those missed shots were especially painful since Falls was getting many of the loose balls during crunch time. But all of that hard work doesn’t help matters much if the shots aren’t falling
Although his team wasn’t scoring too many baskets either, Lawler applauded some of his reserves for stepping into unfamiliar and stressful circumstances and thriving.
"I have to give credit to (junior forward) Taylor Miller, (senior forward) Heather Whitacre and (junior forward) Dai (Dai’Shunai Steward)," he said. "Heather got a bunch of rebounds, Taylor got a big score and Dai got a couple of baskets and some rebounds. With Emma out and (senior forward) Traci (Wright) in foul trouble, we need everybody to step up."
Despite getting into some early foul trouble, Wright finished with 12 points and 7 rebounds.
"Traci has had the best three games of her career," Lawler said. "She is going against good, tough kids in the post. She is starting to come around. She can be a dominant player in our league."
No one else scored in double digits for Hudson, but a total of nine players scored.
Chelsea Huffman led the Lady Black Tigers with 13 points and her older sister, Kayla, added 9 points.
"I love the effort," Nowak said. "I love the fact that we supported each other again. We just can’t afford to be in a 16-point deficit. They understand that. We have to stop beating ourselves."
Hudson, on the other hand, added to its opponent’s dilemma. The Lady Explorers did everything they could to throw off Falls’ talented pair of siblings.
"They are both great players," Lawler said of the Huffman sisters. "They are some of the best guards in our league. They are tough to guard and they are tough on defense."
Both teams were extremely shaky from the foul line. Hudson, which has had massive struggles from the charity stripe throughout the season, converted just 13 of 26 freebies.
Falls was even worse.
The Lady Black Tigers canned just 10 of 22 foul shots on the evening.
"We shot 70 percent against North Royalton," Nowak said. "We were down by nine and we came back to win by nine. I think we missed only two free throws in the final quarter. It’s a tough environment. There was a lot of pressure situations late in the game."