MINFORD — In any sport, it’s always important to take advantage of mismatches when the opportunities are there to do so.
And as a good team usually does, the Minford Falcons’ girls basketball program used excellent team basketball to take advantage of the opportunities that were there in front of them.
Minford rode a 22-point outburst from Ashley Blankenship, the all-around efforts of Caitlyn Puckett and Erin Daniels, and a balanced scoring attack behind Blankenship to outlast 25 combined points from Ellie Ruby and Mallory Bergan en route to claiming a 50-43 victory over Wheelersburg on Wednesday evening at Minford High School in Minford.
For Scott Caudill, the veteran head coach was happy with how his team fought. However, Caudill also knows that there’s work to be done if the Lady Falcons want to accomplish the goals that they have set for themselves.
“We’ll take it,” Caudill said. “We’re very happy, but we’re definitely not satisfied. The girls were the first to admit that we didn’t play very well as soon as we went in the locker room. However, our defense played very well. Offensively, we were out of control and played uncharacteristically. They know that. They’re a little bit disappointed in themselves for that, and how they handled (Wheelersburg’s) pressure. ‘Burg’s got some very athletic kids who are quick, fast, smart, and just passionate kids, and we knew that going in. We knew that we would be in for a battle.”
As for Dusty Spradlin, his unit’s scrappy effort rendered it difficult for the fellow coaching veteran to be displeased as his Lady Pirates, for the second time in as many games to start the 2017-2018 campaign, played a top-notch SOC II opponent to a two-possession game.
“It’s two teams that have experience,” Spradlin said of Minford and South Webster. “I told the girls in the locker room that there is no substitute for experience and practice time. We haven’t really had enough of that, and when you don’t have enough experience, you really need that practice time. We’re still learning, and we played arguably the two best teams in our league in the first two games. We gave it a great effort, and I knew that our kids would play hard, it’s just really about trying to find ourselves offensively. We have to do a lot of different things because of our size and our frames. We’re kind of small. I’m still really proud of the way that these girls played and how hard they fought.”
From the outset of the contest to the 1:26 mark of the first quarter, both teams played to a near deadlock as Bergan and Puckett went back-and-forth on both ends. The duo scored six points each in the opening five-and-a-half minutes to keep the game at a tight 9-7 margin in favor of Minford en route to finishing in double-digits for the contest, with both displaying their athleticism in multiple facets. Caudill even went as far to say that Puckett played “meaner than a snake and tougher than a mule” during the contest.
“Caitlyn had a big night,” Caudill said. “She guarded Abbie Kallner all night long, and claimed a slew of rebounds. I can’t even tell you how many rebounds she had.”
“Mallory’s an athletic big who can really run the floor well, and uses that athleticism to her advantage,” Spradlin said. “The thing that I really love about her — no fear. We try to preach to the girls that you’ve got to play without fear, because if you’re second-guessing yourself, you’re not going to be productive. She’s still learning the game, and she’s only a sophomore.”
But after the pair traded baskets for much of the quarter, Minford followed by kicking its offensive attack into high gear as the Lady Falcons proceeded to go on a monstrous run.
Over the next two minutes and 14 seconds of the contest, the Lady Falcons made a blistering push by going on a 10-0 run — all due to their ability to get Blankenship involved quickly in the low post and their ability to keep Wheelersburg from tracking down second-chance rebounds and points. The 6-3 junior big collected eight of her 22 points in the second quarter as the Lady Falcons kept its advantage around the nine to 10-point range en route to entering the locker room with a 27-18 halftime advantage.
“Ashley played phenomenal tonight,” Caudill said. “My hat’s off to her. She’ll be the first to tell you, though, that the hat’s are off to her teammates. Her teammates recognized and knew the mismatches.”
“We’ve got to find a way to cut out the dead periods on offense,” Spradlin said.” “We had this long dead period on offense, and again, we took some bad shots in that timeframe. We’re still learning that sometimes, you’ve got to possess the ball and look for a great shot. It’s a process.”
In the third quarter of play, however, Wheelersburg came out blazing hot. Just 48 seconds after both teams took the floor for the opening whistle to begin second half play, a tough finish by Kaylee Darnell and a three-pointer from Abbie Kallner allowed the Lady Pirates to immediately cut a 27-18 lead down to 27-23 behind its quick work.
The groove that the Lady Pirates had going on — both offensively and defensively — was enough to overcome a three-pointer from Hannah Tolle, as the Lady Pirates, behind two consecutive three-pointers from Leann Spradlin and Bergan, along with a strong take to the rim by Ruby, allowed Wheelersburg to take its first lead of the second half behind an 11-3 push.
“In the third quarter, we came out with a lot of energy, and took really good shots,” Spradlin said. “I like that we came out with that energy, and had no fear. We made a big run as a result. Give Minford credit. They came back with a run of their own, and got the lead back. It was a great ballgame.”
“You’re always in for a battle when you face kids like Abbie (Kallner) and Ellie (Ruby),” Caudill said. “We still could’ve handled the pressure a lot better. We’ve got to get better on halfcourt sets. At times, we ran it well, and at times, we just got really out of control once we got pressured. It’s something that we’ll get better at.”
But ever the strong competitors, Minford took control.
After four ties or lead changes during the 11-2 spurt, Daniels and Blankenship took control as the third quarter came to a close, with the former answering a Ruby bucket in transition and the latter scoring on a quick low-post move with just under a minute remaining in the third quarter to give the Lady Falcons a 40-36 advantage.
However, Wheelersburg rallied back one final time. Even though Minford obtained two consecutive low-post baskets from Blankenship to begin the fourth quarter en route to pushing its lead to an eight-point cushion, the junior ended up having to leave the game for around two minutes due to an ankle sprain, which allowed Kallner and Ruby — who combined for four tallies during the stretch — to close the lead to a 44-40 count.
But after coming back into the contest, Blankenship wasted no time sealing the deal. After an excellent defensive series where Minford kept Wheelersburg off of the scoreboard with the Lady Pirates draining a minute and change looking for a good shot, Blankenship followed with two huge low-post baskets — the final one coming with 10 seconds remaining — to seal the deal.
“(Defense) is really something that has been a priority of ours,” Caudill said. “The girls did a phenomenal job. The girls had a stretch there where they went over a minute straight on one possession guarding Wheelersburg, and they didn’t let them get a shot off. Our girls did a great job. They played great help-side defense, face-guarded Ellie and Abbie well, and knew where the shooters were.”
With the victory, Minford not only moved to 2-0, but got to enjoy the win knowing that they’ll have a whole week to correct their mistakes before the Lady Falcons make the trip to Oak Hill next Thursday for a SOC II matchup and a primo rivalry affair.
“We’re happy, but we’ve got a lot of work to do,” Caudill said. “The players will be the first to tell you.”
As for Wheelersburg, the Lady Pirates, who are 0-2, will continue its gauntlet to start the season when Wheelersburg opens up its home slate against the Lady Oaks on Monday.
“Nobody’s going to feel sorry for us just because we’re 0-2,” Spradlin said. “At the same time, I am seeing improvement from game to game. Hopefully, we can just keep taking baby steps, and be where we want to be at the end of the season going into the tournament. We’ve got to remember to trust the process, and as long as we do that, we’ll only get better. We’ve just got to make sure that we continue to work, and I believe that our kids will do that.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @KColleyPDT