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MSC showdown goes to Lady Lions

MSC showdown goes to Lady Lions
MSC showdown goes to Lady Lions
North Harrison guard Savana Rhodes forces a jump ball late in the game Thursday night at Salem. Photo by Brian Smith

It’s been a rather dominating run the previous three years through the Mid-Southern Conference for the North Harrison girls’ basketball program.
As the Lady Cats have proven to perform at a high level, the rest of the MSC has shown positives at the mid-way point of the current girls’ basketball season. All but one ‘ winless Clarksville ‘ of the 10 MSC schools sports a winning record.
Thursday night, it was a showdown of the two remaining unbeatens in the league when Class 3A No. 2 Salem hosted North Harrison.
The match-up more than lived up to the billing. It felt like a Duke-North Carolina men’s battle, leaving fans wanting a little more. In fact, the Lady Lions and Lady Cats’ tussle needed overtime to decide the winner. Tallying 11 points in the extra session, Salem came out ahead on the scoreboard, 53-45.
‘I think we should have been a lot better than we were,’ North Harrison coach Missy Voyles said.
Much of North Harrison’s struggles came in the turnover category. Salem used ball pressure and a trapping defense to force 21 miscues.
‘Overall, I don’t think we stuck to our game plan very well,’ Voyles said. ‘We had some things we were supposed to do on the court but we flat out were not doing. That’s being in panic mode and not being focused on what you should be doing. It happens.’
Through facing double teams and constant attention, North Harrison standout Lilly Hatton nearly pulled off a triple-double. The senior posted 20 points on 7-of-13 shooting along with 13 rebounds and eight blocked shots.
Salem altered its game plan in the second half, choosing to take more mid-range shots while spacing the floor when the Lady Cats were using their size on the inside to block 12 shots for the game.
Hatton had her best streak of play in the opening moments of the fourth stanza. With the Lady Cats trailing 35-31, Hatton immediately closed the gap with a 3-point play. Helping North Harrison go on a 9-2 burst, Hatton scored three more field goals, putting the Lady Cats up 40-37 with 5:21 to play.
Salem put the clamps down on North Harrison the rest of the way, allowing only a transition bucket by Ali Saunders with two minutes to go. North Harrison still led 42-40 at that point.
To force overtime, Salem’s Lettie Nice scored in the post with a minute to go. After a North Harrison turnover, Salem’s Mackenzie Underwood had her baseline shot blocked, prompting the overtime.
North Harrison opened the extra session with the first points, a Hatton short jumper. Eleven of the final 12 points scored, however, tilted to the Lady Lions.
Leah Miller put up five points in the overtime, including the first two field goals. North Harrison turned the ball over four times in the extra four minutes.
‘Possessions become extremely important,’ Voyles said of the overtime. ‘We didn’t have good possessions the last three minutes … The girls are crying and are unhappy. I told them I don’t like to lose, but I don’t think they played that bad overall.’
One takeaway is learning to handle pressure better.
‘Not so much that we struggled with the pressure, but the fact that we hid from it,’ Voyles said. ‘Let’s not leave (point guard) Ali (Saunders) all alone to break the press. You have to know when to slow down and not panic. We have to move the basketball better. That’s how good things happen.’
Saunders, one of two freshmen to start for North Harrison, showed her worth early in the contest with an early triple. A put-back by Chloe Jacobi made it an electric 7-0 start for the visitors. Lucy Robertson added two field goals, then Hatton nailed two freebies for a 13-7 North Harrison lead.
Midway through the second quarter, Saunders made her second 3-pointer, pushing North Harrison ahead 18-13. The lead ballooned to 24-16 when Saunders made a field goal, then creating a turnover that led to a Diana Burgher basket.
Salem, with a Hope Tomlinson triple, cut the Salem deficit to five at the break. Much of the first half saw North Harrison use its length to alter the shots of the penetrating Lady Lions.
‘I thought we played pretty well defensively,’ Voyles said.
Holding a five-point lead, Hatton was held to four points at the half.
‘Getting her to move. In the first half, she thought she was moving but she was settling,’ Voyles said of Hatton on the offensive end. ‘She felt like she was open, but she wasn’t. I wanted her to move into better positions so we could get her the ball. We weren’t moving the ball either. It was a bad combination of not moving ourselves or the basketball.’
The lead would swing back and forth between the foes in the second half.
The loss snapped a 31-game MSC win streak for North Harrison.
Saunders closed the game with 10 points and three steals. Jacobi added seven points and 11 boards, while Burgher contributed four points and four assists. Robertson pulled 10 rebounds, blocked two shots and added four points.
Salem (10-0, 5-0 MSC) was led in scoring by Leah Miller’s 17 points. Karly Sweeney notched a double-double with 11 points and 11 boards.
North Harrison (9-2, 4-1 MSC) will return to action Saturday with a 3 p.m. tip at Evansville Memorial. The Lady Cats could see Salem again when both teams participate in the East Central Holiday Tournament on Dec. 28 and 29.

North Harrison 11 8 16 7 11 ‘ 53
Salem 15 9 7 11 3 ‘ 45
North Harrison (9-2, 4-1 MSC) ‘ Lilly Hatton 20, Ali Saunders 10, Chloe Jacobi 7, Diana Burgher 4, Lucy Robertson 4.
Salem (10-0, 5-0) ‘ Leah Miller 17, Karly Sweeney 11, Hope Tomlinson 8, Lettie Nice 8, Mackenzie Underwood 4, Natalie Noel 3, Callie Backherms 2.
3-point goals ‘ North Harrison 2 (Saunders 2); Salem 5 (Sweeney 2, Tomlinson 2, Noel).