Lady Cats jump on Eastern quick, roll
The pep band was rolling as the student sectioned grooved during the warm-ups of Friday night’s home opener for the North Harrison girls’ basketball team.
A level above the students and band, a newly-sewn banner recognized the efforts of the Lady Cats’ from a season ago. With a Class 3A state runner-up notice hung on the wall, the current crop of players returned to the home floor for the first time since clinching a sectional trophy.
On the docket was a formidable Mid-Southern Conference opponent in Class 2A No. 10 Eastern (Pekin). North Harrison, ranked No. 2 in 3A, rattled the Lady Musketeers in the opening quarter to the tune of 10 forced turnovers. A buzzer-beating triple from Cali Nolot gave the Lady Cats a commanding 15-1 lead after eight minutes.
The margin was enough for North Harrison. Eastern was able to cut the margin to nine points in the third quarter but faded as the Lady Cats rolled, 56-40.
Transition offense was key to the beginning, which saw Eastern held scoreless for nearly seven minutes.
A Stevi Burns steal led to Taylor Rennirt scoring on the other end. Rennirt later converted her own back-court steal into two points. Lilly Hatton defended the paint, swatting four blocks in the first quarter. One block led to Hatton eventually finishing inside on the other end.
‘Their defense led to their offense early in the game,’ North Harrison coach Missy Voyles said. ‘(Eastern) made some adjustments that I feel we didn’t adjust very well to. We were very impatient on the offensive end of the floor.’
Veronica Judson put Eastern on the board with a single free throw with 1:05 to go in the opening quarter. By then, the Lady Cats had already reeled off 10 points.
Adding on, Nolot drove the lane and dropped off a no-look pass to Emma Nokes for a field goal. Nolot later added a long ball for a 15-1 first-quarter lead.
Going 3 for 4 from 3-point range, Nolot closed with 17 points. Hatton had a team-high 19 points.
Rennirt, meanwhile, flirted with a LeBron James-like triple double. The guard stuffed the stat sheet with 14 points (6-of-8 shooting), nine rebounds, seven steals and four assists.
‘Taylor, I thought played well the entire game, offensively and defensively,’ Voyles said. ‘She was all over the place. She was really good back-door and scoring off her own defense. She plays hard all the time.’
Rennirt added to the lead with an old-fashioned 3-point play to begin the second quarter.
Eastern started to settle into the game by the early stages of the second quarter, getting its first field goal from Isabell Claywell.
Continuing to build on the lead, North Harrison had buckets fall by Nolot, Rennirt and Hatton to reach a 21-point margin.
Eastern standout Taylor Drury was held in check during the first 12 minutes of play but began to heat up in the second quarter. She knocked down a late jumper to prompt a 32-14 half-time edge for North Harrison.
Drury elevated her game post-halftime. In the third quarter, the Lady Musketeers outscored North Harrison 17-9. Kolbi Sponcel hit a 3-pointer, but, other than a Holly Purlee field goal, it was all Drury. She accounted for 12 of her game-high 22 points in the third.
‘I’m going to give Taylor Drury a lot of credit,’ Voyles said. ‘She hit some really good shots with hands in her face. She went in a zone there. She’s a good player; I’m not going to take anything away from her night. It wasn’t us not playing good defense as much as she was that good.’
A Drury jumper late in the third made it a 10-point game, 41-31.
North Harrison’s execution on the offensive end began to click more in the final frame. Hatton scored six points, while Nolot saw a shot hang on the back of the rim before falling for an and-one chance.
An 11-4 start to the final fame assured the Lady Cats a 4-0 record, including 1-0 in defense of its MSC title.
‘It was ugly late,’ Voyles said. ‘I feel bad. So many people come watch us play, and I feel we play poorly right now. Hopefully, we can start to be more entertaining than what we’ve been so far.’
With another year of experience under the belt of the still young team (two seniors), Voyles said the offense has been slow to get churning.
‘Get some timing down,’ Voyles said of cleaning up the half-court offense. ‘Maybe get in the spots where I put you … It’s a little frustrating. Offensively, we weren’t great the beginning of last year either. We’ve changed some things offensively, doing some new things, and they are struggling a little with the timing and patience. It got better last year as we went along.’
In addition to double-figure scoring nights from Hatton, Nolot and Rennirt, North Harrison had two points each from Shelby Kondovski, Hallie Hinton and Nokes. Hinton also dished five assists.
North Harrison will return to action Saturday when the Lady Cats host Scottsburg at 7:30 p.m.
Eastern (Pekin) 1 13 17 9 ‘ 40
North Harrison 15 17 9 15 ‘ 56
Eastern (Pekin) (1-1, 0-1 MSC) ‘ Drury 22, Claywell 5, Stewart 5, Purlee 4, Sponcel 3, Judson 1.
North Harrison (3-0, 1-0) ‘ Hatton 19, Nolot 17, Rennirt 14, Kondovski 2, Hinton 2, Nokes 2.
3-point goals ‘ Eastern 4 (Drury 2, Stewart, Sponcel); North Harrison 3 (Nolot 3).