Basketball is a sport where the mental aspects of the game make an impact just as much as the physical part of play.
On Tuesday evening at South Webster, those mental miscues proved to be costly to the Valley Indians as they fell to the home team Jeeps 46-39.
Ellie Jo Johnson scored 15 points. for South Webster, and Madison Cook added 13. Valley’s Bre Call led all scorers with 18.
Turnovers were troublesome as the game transpired for the Indians, who had several unforced mistakes that ended up being too much to overcome.
“I saw some mental mistakes with this weak passing,” Valley head coach Mark Merritt said. “It’s tournament time, and I told the girls in the huddle that’s things that we should already have cleared up.”
“We did a fairly good job defensively, but we also had a few mental mistakes and left some people open. I think we’re improving, but there’s still a lot of things we can do to get better.”
After one, it was the Indians who had a slim margin on the scoreboard, leading 8-6.
Call scored four points in the first, and was up to her usual offensive output. Throughout the contest, Call showed her range from all areas of the floor, and was able to set the tone for the game.
The second quarter saw each school go back and forth some more, but the difference was a late push from the Jeeps on a 6-0 run.
Tied at 15, the Jeeps connected on a jumper with 2:30 to play from Karli Montgomery.
Montgomery had three points on the night, but played some valuable minutes at her guard position.
“Karli Montgomery did a good job coming off the bench and guarding, and handling the ball against that press,” South Webster head coach Kristie Johnson said.
Following the Montgomery score, the Jeeps got two more baskets from Cook.
First, Cook scored on an inbounds play at the basket. Then, Cook grabbed an offensive rebound and laid the ball in to make the score 21-15 with 1:12 before the half.
Valley answered before the break on a Call shot with ten seconds remaining, but the Indians were down 21-17 at halftime.
As always, both coaches made adjustments in the locker room. But for South Webster, their coach challenged them mentally.
“We talked about mental toughness,” Johnson said. “We had a game last night, and we talked about how you’ve got to be mentally tough.”
“Back-to-back games sometimes are hard, and Valley had one last night as well. So, I told them that’s not an excuse, we’ve got to be mentally tough and mentally prepared to shoot.”
Out of the break, the Jeeps were absolutely ready to shoot their shot.
Shots sank at a steady pace to start the third, as South Webster surged to a 9-0 run to open the quarter.
Avery Zempter stroked a three-pointer 30 seconds into the second half to put the Jeeps up 24-17. Then, Johnson scored six straight to close out the spurt.
In a game in which fouls were an issue throughout, Johnson still found a way to shine.
The Morehead State commit is always tough to guard, and this contest was no different. Valley seemed to throw a large portion of the playbook at Johnson, trying to take her out of her game.
“I think Kaity Howard did a real nice job on Ellie Jo Johnson,” Merritt said. “We were in a box and one there for a little while, then we were in a triangle and two. So, we had a lot of thinking to do, and a couple times we had some mental lapses and let them score.”
Beyond Howard, Merritt also liked what he saw from junior Bailee Day on that defensive side of the court.
“I thought Bailee Day did a nice job in the middle of the floor,” Merritt said. “She was trying to guard from wing to wing, and she did a real nice job contesting some shots. They only made two threes out there, and she was probably a major part in contesting that.”
On offense for the Indians though, scores became tough to come by as the errors started to mount in the second half.
Coupled with defensive changes and mistakes from Valley, South Webster stepped up their defense to try and slow down the Indians attack.
“Every time down the court we tried to give them a different look or a different zone to try and make them have to think a little more instead of making it easy,” Johnson said. “Call does a nice job of driving and getting open, and we at times broke down on defense and didn’t get to help side position. So, we went with a zone and I think that kind of helped.”
The 9-0 run to start the third was pivotal in the outlook of the remainder of the game, as Valley made numerous efforts to comeback, but wound up short.
“When you let South Webster get out on you like that, it’s hard to come back,” Merritt said.
After three, the Jeeps led 39-26.
With one quarter to go, the Indians were still in it. Valley would outscore South Webster 13-7 in the fourth, but was just too far behind to close out the comeback.
It looked like the Indians may have a shot at some late game heroics with 3:27 left, as Johnson picked up her fifth foul for the Jeeps and fouled out.
South Webster didn’t panic, and kept their composure with their leader out of the game.
“I’m proud of the girls, because earlier in the season if Ellie Jo would’ve fouled out they would’ve panicked but they didn’t,” Johnson said.
A major key in keeping their cool was the play of Cook, who handled the ball down the stretch for the Jeeps to close out the game.
“Maddie Cook did a great job,” Johnson said. “She stepped up and handled the ball when we needed her to, hit some big threes for us, and rebounded against Hannah Conley.”
It was a gutsy win in a game that went back and forth, but South Webster found a way to get it done.
Next up for the Jeeps is a date with the Minford Falcons on Thursday, a team that Johnson says will attack from each position on the floor.
“We’ve got Minford, and it’ll be good because they’re a good solid team,” Johnson said. “We have to realize that you can’t hide people on defense against a really good team, and they’ve got five solid players.”
The tough schedule continues for Valley, as they travel to Wheelersburg on Thursday.
“It’s really hard when you’ve got 20 teams on your schedule and about 14 of them you play have got winning records,” Merritt said. “We’ve got to be ready game in and game out every night.”
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