The emotionally draining and spiritually redeeming story of Fennville (Mich.) High's boys basketball season rolled on Wednesday, with the Blackhawks winning their second straight playoff game without fallen star Wes Leonard, advancing to the district championship game as a result.
Again playing at Hope College in nearby Holland, Mich., Fennville used a quick start and accurate 3-point shooting to leave Bangor (Mich.) High in its wake, cruising to a 79-50 blowout victory. Perhaps more than the 22-0 team's accurate shooting, it used more concentrated emotion as motivation just a day after Leonard was laid to rest in a Fennville cemetery.
"I honestly with all my heart think it was six against five tonight," Bangor coach Rocky Johnson told the Associated Press after the game.
True to Johnson's sentiment, Bangor never closed the deficit to fewer than 13 points in the second half.
For the second straight game, the Fennville team was met by cheers from both sides of the crowd, with a packed stadium taking on the air of a celebration rather than an acrimonious state playoff game. For the second straight game, Fennville relied upon a balanced team effort to get past a tough opponent, though this time the Blackhawks also got a lift from a surprising catalyst: Xavier Griggs, pictured embracing Wes Leonard's younger brother Mitchell above. Fittingly, Griggs is the player who replaced Leonard in the team's starting lineup.
On Wednesday, Griggs led all scorers with 25 points, drilling four 3-pointers as he emerged as the team's most accurate shooting threat. Leonard averaged 21 points per game during his junior season, and Griggs entered Wednesday's contest averaging less than seven points per game.
Yet Griggs wasn't the only player driven on by Leonard's memory, with Fennville coach Ryan Klingler insisting that the fallen star would be with his teammates for the rest of their lives, not just the remainder of the playoffs.
"He's going to be an angel to us, and when these guys are done, he will be somewhere close to their hearts," Klingler told the AP. "That's the legacy he is leaving."
On Friday, he'll be with the Blackhawks at Hope College's DeVos Fieldhouse again, where they will face off against Covert (Mich.) High for the right to call themselves -- and Leonard -- district champions.