Lady Cats hold off Crawford rally
Wade Bell, Sports Writer
The Crawford County girls’ basketball team has run a gauntlet of solid teams in its first six games that have resulted in losses for the Lady Pack. Their seventh came last Tuesday night against rival North Harrison but not without a second-half rally after being down 20 points. The Lady Cats, however, ruled the night in the end with a 56-46 win, keeping the Lady Pack shutout through the first part of the season.
“We’ve got a locker room full of kids that still believe in each other and know that, out of 2A schools our size, we probably play one of the toughest schedules of anybody,” said Crawford County coach Chris Broughton. “We’ve played seven games. Four of them have been against 3A schools that are bigger than us, then you play Pekin, who’s tough.
“You’ve got a Greenwood Christian team, who’s really tough, and Southridge, who’s really physical and tough,” he said. “Nobody is going to feel sorry for you. … There’s got to be some point later in the year where we get over the hump and get a big win and we can look back and say, ‘Those first seven games made us tougher.’ That’s what our goal is.”
“Right now, our focus is on us getting better,” said North Harrison coach Jamie Kolkmeier. “We haven’t really hit that niche yet. Obviously, Ali (Saunders) is important and Diana (Burgher) is important and they have to score for us, but we need the team and everybody to play well together and gel. We just haven’t moved the ball enough. We got caught up kind of standing and watching at different times this year. At times, we had some really nice passing here tonight. We didn’t always convert them. We got a couple of nice looks, but a couple of times we got busy just standing and waiting on the ball.”
The first six minutes of the first quarter were spent with the two teams trading baskets back and forth. Saunders finally got a deuce and three-ball to go down back to back. McKenna Pearson also dropped a three for a seven-point North Harrison lead. Sarah Stutzman got one of those back for the Lady Pack, and the first period ended with the Lady Cats leading 16-10.
“They’re scrappy, and they’re competing,” Kolkmeier said of Crawford County. “They came into the game 0-6 but they don’t back down and, when we didn’t play well there for a little stretch, they took advantage of it.”
“We talked about having multiple levels of defense,” Broughton said. “We wanted the first level to try to slow Saunders down, the second level to try to pick her off and make her give the ball up. Our third level, we couldn’t find Burgher and that’s where we talked about, on the back end we’ve got to find Burgher, and we just couldn’t do that. She made us pay a bunch from the mid-range.”
After canning seven of their 10 shots in the first quarter, the ball got a little frosty for the Lady Cats in the second, with North Harrison hitting just four of nine from the field. Crawford County hit three of nine from the field in the eight minutes leading to a 28-16 lead for the Lady Cats at halftime.
“In the second quarter, we go off Saunders some and we gave her some open shots and gave her some drives,” said Broughton. “We didn’t rebound very well. Whoever we wanted to get a shot for them, we’d get the right person to shoot then we couldn’t get the rebound and capitalize on that. Rebounding is part of your defense. You could play defense really good but, if you don’t finish it off with a defensive rebound, you did it for nothing.”
“I thought we shot the ball a little bit better from the perimeter than we have,” Kolkmeier said. “At times, we had some really good passing. So, we want to take those good moments of how well we passed the ball and just apply those. When is that a good pass and when do we not attack all the time. There were times when we found open players and we had good spacing. We just need to build consistency.”
North Harrison began the second half with a 9-2 burst for a 37-18 lead following a three-ball from Burgher. Maddyson Sturgeon and Emily Kerce scored inside for the Lady Pack, but the Lady Cats countered with an 8-2 run, taking the ball inside for a 45-24 lead. Sturgeon and Taylor Herbaugh countered with a pair of deuces. North Harrison took a timeout with just under a minute remaining in the quarter. Neither team scored after the break, and the Lady Cats held a 45-28 lead with one quarter to go.
The fourth quarter started with Saunders out of the lineup. Kolkmeier said there was good reason for that, having his team learn how to play without the senior standout in the event of an injury or foul trouble.
“The fourth quarter we had a 14-point lead,” Kolkmeier said. “That’s got to be a time where the kids have still got to play. Sometimes the kids have got to learn how to play without the crutch of that best player on the floor. If she’s not out there, how are we going to play? It was an opportunity for kids to really learn to be a player, handle the ball and pass. That hurt us, but at the same time we have to learn how to do that.”
The Lady Pack saw an open door and worked their way back into the game. Stutzman sank a freebie, then Herbaugh drilled a three. Meg Marinc scored for North Harrison, then Stutzman sandwiched three-balls around a Burgher deuce, cutting the Lady Cats’ lead to 11. Neither team scored on their next possessions. Herbaugh put in a single and Stroud finish in the paint with a deuce, the Crawford County deficit now at eight.
The two teams traded baskets twice, then Stutzman canned her third three of the quarter, closing the gap to seven, 53-46, with 1:47 to go. That was the last basket Crawford County would see go down as Molly Coomer and Madi Clunie put in three final free throws for a 56-46 Lady Cats’ win.
“I’m proud of the kids for not quitting,” Broughton said. “We got down 20 or so and came back and cut it to seven and even had the ball a couple of times down seven. We just couldn’t do anything there. I thought we did a good job early executing the game plan and doing what we wanted to do.”
Burgher led the Lady Cats with 22 and Coomer followed with 14. Saunders had 12 for North Harrison, which put in 21 of 44 field goals (48%), 6 of 8 free throws and had 11 turnovers.
“We need (Burgher) to score the ball at times, and she did a pretty decent job on the boards,” Kolkmeier said. “It helps a bunch. She knocked down a perimeter shot or two. She’s capable of being a really good shooter. I think as she gets that feel, she just needs to look to be ready for that perimeter shot … ”
“(Coomer’s) our glue,” he said. “She’ understands everything and defensively she keeps us in spots. She’s maybe our best help-side defender and communicator with the ball, where the ball is and action. She came out and knocked down a few shots early and was able to get us on the board. She’s a great kid. We’ve just got to keep her confident.”
Stutzman led the Lady Pack with 20 points, and Stroud was big inside with 12 points. Crawford County canned 18 of 45 from the field (40%) and was 5 of 12 from the charity stripe. The Lady Pack finished the night with 17 turnovers.
“We’ve got to have some kids go to the boards besides Natalie,” said Broughton. “Natalie is just going after everything and over-exerting herself. That’s about four games in a row she’s really played well. I think she’s figured out what her role is and what we need her to do. Sarah did a good job of not quitting there and really battling. I think she quit thinking and started playing. That’s the way they all have to do. They all battled. We’ve just got to play.”
“Offensively, we’re still a work in progress,” he said. “I like where we’re going but we’ve got to figure some things out. We’ll be able to do that. We’ve only been able to practice a time or two with some of the new stuff we want to do. We’ll get that figured out. We can’t quit.”
“Stutzman, we didn’t crowd her quite enough and she ends up getting four threes there toward the end,” said Kolkmeier. “Maddy Sturgeon, she’s only a freshman but I thought she was getting after us and competing and having a drive and one just kind of rolled out there at the end for her toward the end of the game. Teams aren’t going to roll over just because you’re down. We’ve got to get a little bit better executing at the end and understanding situation basketball.”
Crawford County 10 6 12 18 – 46
North Harrison 16 12 17 11 – 56
Crawford County – Stutzman 20, Stroud 12, Herbaugh 8, Sturgeon 4, Kerce 2.
North Harrison – Burgher 22, Coomer 14, Saunders 12, Pearson 3, Case 2, Marinc 2, Clunie 1.
3-point goals – Crawford County 5 (Stutzman 4, Herbaugh 1); North Harrison 6 (Burgher 2, Coomer 2, Pearson 1, Saunders 1).