WILLOUGHBY — In its season opener, the Hudson girls basketball team committed 20 turnovers and finished with just four assists.
As a result, the Explorers stumbled out of the gates with a convincing loss.
They’re probably not ready to start thinking about a conference championship yet, but Hudson turned things around quite dramatically Tuesday.
And it got its first win of the season in the process.
The Explorers earned a 61-52 victory over host Willoughby South. With the win, Hudson improved to 1-1 this winter. The Rebels dropped to 1-1.
The Explorers outscored South 20-11 in the third quarter and then sealed the game with clutch free throws down the stretch.
Hudson sliced its turnovers to 14 against the pressing Rebels and showed considerably better ball movement than it did in its season opener.
"How hard we played at the end is what I’m most proud of," Lawler said. "We made great decisions; we met the ball."
Explorers sophomore guard Ali Menendez led all scorers with 25 points, including 16 in the first half. The game was tied at 28 when the two teams went to the locker rooms.
Hudson senior point guard Sarah Hinkle, a three-year varsity player, added 14 points and was a guiding light to the rest of her teammates when things got a bit nerve-racking in the final minutes.
"How she goes, we go," Lawler said of Hinkle. "She’s our rock. She has been a tremendous leader. She knows the kids; she knows the game; she knows when to get it to people; she knows when to take her shots. How she plays is how we’re going to go."
Five other players scored at least two points for the Explorers, who converted 12-of-15 foul shots. Hudson made just 15-of-25 free throws in a 51-39 loss to Chesterland West Geauga last Saturday.
Lawler was particularly pleased with the effort of Maddie Newberry, who gave the team a much-needed spark in the second half. Newberry grabbed a few loose balls and grabbed three rebounds in a limited number of minutes.
The junior forward scored her only two points in the fourth quarter, thanks to some stellar execution.
Leading 50-44 with a little less than seven minutes left, Hudson’s Anastasia Lawler got the ball at the top of the key. Lawler had an open look, but decided to hold onto the ball for a few more seconds.
The senior guard’s patience was rewarded when she spotted Newberry cutting towards the basket. Lawler fired a perfect pass to Newberry, who finished with an easy layup.
"She did a great job," Coach Lawler said of Newbrry. "When your number is called, your teammates are expecting you to go out there and do your job and that’s exactly what she did.
"She battled with those kids. She helped us with extra possessions."
The Rebels cut their deficit to three (52-49) when sophomore guard Grace Woodcock made two freebies. However, the Explorers scored the next six points to put it away. Hinkle concluded the mini spurt with an uncontested layup in transition.
Woodcock led South with 15 points and junior forward Jada Hopps added 11 points for the Rebels, who knocked down seven 3-pointers and finished 17-of-20 from the foul line.
As for Hudson, a second-half performance like this one was certainly an encouraging sign. The Explorers, who have not had a winning season since 2013, have had their difficulties when it comes to closing games.
That was not the case Wednesday.
"I personally believe all 14 of our league games are going to be like that," Lawler said. "We were mentally tough and we finished the game. I’m proud of them for that effort."
Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, firstname.lastname@example.org or @FrankAceto_RPC.