WILLOUGHBY — The heart and soul is Sarah Hinkle.

The go-to 3-point shooter? That would be Anastasia Lawler.

And if the ball needs to go to the low post, the towering Kate Orazen is the top option, first, last and always.

While these three young ladies will get their much deserved touches throughout the course of the season, the Hudson girls basketball team’s future will be determined by two precocious sophomore guards.

Their names are Ali Menendez and Delaney DiGeronimo.

Thanks to these dazzling playmakers, the Explorers picked up their first win of the season Tuesday.

Hudson improved to 1-1 after earning a 61-52 victory over host Willoughby South.

Menendez, the team’s shortest player, finished with a game-high 25 points, mostly on drives to the basket. She also made 7-of-9 shots from the free throw line. DiGeronimo added seven points.

Menendez kept her team in the game with 16 points in the first half. However, the Explorers played their best ball when their diminutive slasher didn’t score in bunches.

That was just fine with Menendez.

“At halftime, we took what our coach said and we executed it on the floor,” Menendez said. “I just feel like our second half was our good half. We played together.”

They sure did.

Hudson outscored the Rebels 20-11 in the third quarter and made pivotal plays down the stretch to secure the win.

Things got a bit tense when South cut its deficit to three (52-49) with a little more than three minutes left.

That’s when Menendez dialed up long distance to put it away.

Menendez got the ball at the top of the key and without hesitation, fired a bomb toward the hoop. The shot found nothing but net to give the Explorers a 56-49 advantage.

The Rebels didn’t have a chance after that.

“At the end, I feel we pushed through and we never gave up,” Menendez said. “There was no one that was jogging on the floor. Everyone was sprinting.”

These dogged 100-mile-per-hour sprinters included DiGeronimo, who was a calming influence throughout the game. Thanks to DiGeronimo’s stellar ball-handling, Hudson was able to get the ball past midcourt most of the evening despite South’s pressure.

“Those two have been playing great,” Explorers head coach Dennis Lawler said of his two sophomore starters. “They got a lot of experience last year on the varsity level. They improved a ton. AAU [Amateur Athletic Union] season has really helped them. They really have come into their own.”

Both Menendez and DiGeronimo know their place, though. Hinkle and Lawler, the undisputed alpha females in this pride, run the show on game nights and during practice.

Menendez wouldn’t want it any other way.

“Sarah and Anastasia are huge role models for me,” Menendez said. “They always will be there for me and they will always help me with anything I need.”

It’s very likely Menendez and DiGeronimo will follow their two senior leaders’ footsteps someday.

The sooner, the better.

“They still have some things to work on, but I like their future and their promise,” Coach Lawler said.

Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, faceto@recordpub.com or @FrankAceto_RPC.