A new coaching regime often times comes with growing pains as players and coaches get a feel for one another.
That wasn’t the case for new Clay head coach Sthefany Thomas, as her Panthers pounced on East Monday night in a 71-19 victory.
“I’m excited about the win,” Thomas said. “I think the girls played hard the entire game, and I think it was a good chance for us to see the things we need to work on and the things we need to get better at.”
Clay cruised ahead early on a 12-0 run to start the game, using constant full court pressure to cause turnovers and create easy scoring opportunities.
“They’re really a good team,” East head coach Bill Johnson said. “Their pressure took us out of everything we would have even tried to do.”
Tartans freshman Grace Smith stopped the scoring run with a score to make the lead 12-2, but the Panthers press continued to trouble East throughout the first quarter.
Several second chance opportunities led to another run for Clay, as they closed out the first frame of action on a 9-0 run and led 21-2 after one.
Lauren Campbell was big for the Panthers in terms of creating those second shot chances, as the sophomore grabbed 18 rebounds, with 14 of those coming on the offensive end.
Campbell also finished with 12 points, recording a double-double in the first game of the season.
In the second quarter, Clay continued to attack on both sides of the floor. The Tartans tallied two more points from several Keana Day free throws, but the Panthers pushed forward 33-4 before Johnson took a timeout.
Junior Skylar Artis was a factor during that span, draining two threes. Artis would finish with 10 points on the night, as well as six assists.
Several possessions after the timeout, Clay captured a 37-4 edge on a series where the Panthers grabbed four separate offensive rebounds around the rim.
As the second quarter drew closer to an end, Day ripped the ball away from a Clay player and sank a layup right at the final horn to make the halftime score 39-6 in favor of the Panthers.
The defense was stellar for Clay all night, particularly in the first half. That effort has been a point of emphasis for Thomas throughout the preseason.
“We’ve been focusing on defense in the preseason,” Thomas said. “That’s one of our strengths I would say.”
“If we don’t have to run a play, we can just push it down the court and shoot layups, that’s what I would like for the team to do.”
While East was down big at the half, they didn’t ease up and kept fighting.
In the third quarter, the Panthers outscored the Tartans 11-6 to take a 50-12 lead into the fourth, but Johnson saw potential from his players.
“In the second half, it seemed to be different,” Johnson said. “We were better, we were different, and I think we’ve got to build on that.”
“I think that’s the key, to build on the positives in the second half.”
Day once again hit a shot before the buzzer in the third quarter, and scored again off the bat in the fourth quarter on a nice jump shot. The junior finished with eight points for East.
After a score from the Tartans cut the lead to 53-16, Clay closed out the remainder of the game strong with a 18-3 run.
Jensen Warnock was the leading scorer for the Panthers, racking up 17 points. The junior also grabbed 12 rebounds.
Cameron DeLotell pitched in with 12 points and four rebounds, showing the range with two made three-pointers as well.
“I think everybody did a real good job overall … everybody did their part, played their role, and contributed to our win tonight,” Thomas said.
Regan Osborn had a complete game for Clay on both sides of the ball as well.
Osborn totaled eight points, four rebounds, seven steals, and five assists.
“Regan did really well defensively,” Thomas said. “Her help side [defense] is great.”
Thomas also tabbed junior Sophia Balestra as a player that stood out on the night. Balestra ended the game with eight points.
“Sophia did a real good job finishing around the rim and getting some good shots early in the game,” Thomas said.
The statistic of the night for Thomas’ group, though, was the steals. The Panthers had 22 steals in the game, and also recorded 36 deflections.
Although Johnson and East came up on the wrong end of the scoreboard, there was improvements made in the second half that can help them as the season progresses.
“I think we were shell-shocked early,” Johnson said. “We were panicking, and we need to catch the ball and hold it, look, and do the things we’ve been doing.”
“We started a little bit behind, and I think in three weeks when we play them again we’re going to expect to be a little better. I don’t know score wise, but we’re going to play better.”
Reach Benjamin Spicer at (502)264-7318 on Twitter @BSpicerPDT or at Facebook.com/ReporterBenSpicer