Team in mourning wins playoff game

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HOLLAND, Mich. --- A west Michigan high school basketball team mourning the death of a star player returned to the court Monday, winning a state tournament game that turned into a tribute for the 16-year-old who collapsed after scoring a winning basket last week.

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Students react as Mitchell Leonard, whose brother Wes died immediately after a game last week, enters the gym in Holland, Mich., before Fennville High's playoff game. Fennville won its first game since the tragedy.   Associated Press
Associated Press
Students react as Mitchell Leonard, whose brother Wes died immediately after a game last week, enters the gym in Holland, Mich., before Fennville High's playoff game. Fennville won its first game since the tragedy.

Fennville High was playing just four days after star guard Wes Leonard died from a heart ailment. Unbeaten Fennville, one of the state's highest-rated Class C teams, beat Lawrence High 65-54 in a district opener. The Blackhawks move to Wednesday's second round with a 21-0 record.

Fennville teammates hugged and cried after the final buzzer sounded and the crowd of 3,500 erupted in a standing ovation.

"Wes would have wanted to win," teammate Adam Siegel said. "I wanted to win."

Leonard's absence overshadowed the game. In tribute to their fallen teammate, Fennville sent just four players onto the court before the opening tip. The fifth player took the court after a dramatic pause to wild cheering from the crowd.

Fennville's last game was Thursday, when Leonard made the game-winning basket in overtime to cap an undefeated regular season at 20-0.

Seconds later, he fell to the court, stunning a crowd estimated at more than 1,400. Leonard was rushed to a hospital where he was pronounced dead. An autopsy showed he died of cardiac arrest from an enlarged heart.

Fennville decided to play Monday after school officials talked to Leonard's family. The game was supposed to be played at Lawrence but was moved to Hope College in Holland to handle a larger crowd.

"I'm just proud of the way we handled things; I'm proud of the way Lawrence handled things," Fennville coach Ryan Klingler said. "The effort by both teams tonight is how it should be. I think Wes would be proud of us all. ... I think he was watching down on us. This is a game he'd have liked."

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