ROSEMOUNT — Putting a team in a position to learn from late-game situations early on in the season can only help said team when the same situations arise later when a win-or-go-home scenario arises.
And even though Sthefany Thomas’ initial home bout as the first-year head coach of the Clay Lady Panthers resulted in a tough 44-41, double-overtime loss to Chesapeake on Saturday afternoon in Rosemount, Thomas certainly hasn’t lost hope in what her team can do. If anything, it’s helped.
“I thought that it was a great game overall from both teams,” Thomas said. “‘Peake is a really good team, and it was our first big test. They helped us see where we are. We need to get better at the little things. Those free throws that were missed, and the layups that we missed, were crucial in the outcome. Layups and free throws are among the differences in winning or losing the game. We’re just looking at it as a learning lesson. It’s good for us to see where we stand right now, and what we need to work on as a team. It helps to keep the girls motivated. We’ll come back Monday and keep working hard.”
Behind a fierce defensive contest from both squads, the battle of Lady Panthers’ units on Saturday afternoon turned into a battle of defenses. After Jensen Warnock nailed one of two free throw attempts on the first offensive possession of the contest, the Lady Panthers didn’t strike the scoreboard again until the 3:57 mark of the first quarter, when Lauren Campbell battled her way down inside and added a bucket down low to cut Chesapeake’s lead to a 4-3 margin.
Then, after Chesapeake obtained a low-post bucket from Shea Erwin, Clay really turned up the heat on both ends of the floor.
Sparked by a three by Cameron DeLotell from the right wing that beat the first quarter horn, Clay, behind its ferocious defensive intensity, held Chesapeake scoreless for nearly five and a half minutes as Thomas’ squad took the lead.
In that same stretch, DeLotell, in addition to her buzzer-beating three, added a second three from nearly the exact same spot less than three minutes into the second quarter en route to giving Clay a 13-6, and eventually, a 15-11 advantage heading into the halftime break. The junior finished with a team-high 11 points and added nine rebounds while going 3-of-7 from long distance.
“Cameron really shot the ball well from the three-point line,” Thomas said. “We drew up a play for her with four seconds left on an out of bounds play (at the end of the game), and she was wide open from three. We just happened to miss her. That comes back to the little things and paying attention to details, such as the situation we’re in. ‘Peake is a great team. It was a great effort and I’m really proud of the way that the girls fought back. They showed a lot of heart, especially on the defensive end.”
But after holding a solid four-point margin (17-13) to the three-minute mark of the third quarter, Clay fell behind as the duo of Erwin and Brooke Webb began to find room on Chesapeake’s fast break opportunities. The pair, at one point, scored all eight of Chesapeake’s points in an 8-0 run that gave the lead back to the visitors, who eventually took a 24-22 advantage at the end of the third quarter.
Still, Clay fought back. After briefly taking leads of 26-24 and 28-26 on two excellent plays by Regan Osborn — the first, an excellent find to Sophia Balestra that led to two free throws, and the second, a strong take to the rack that led to two free throws, Chesapeake managed to come back with an 8-0 run that was again led by Erwin and Webb, who combined for six points during the squad’s second such run of the contest.
But Clay, with less than a minute to spare in the game, found a way to extend the game as a free throw from Balestra and a right-corner trey from Osborn tied the score with 31.2 seconds left in the affair — an affair that eventually went to overtime thanks to Clay’s ability to win its fair share of 50-50 balls.
“That’s one of the things that we emphasize a lot, winning the 50-50 balls,” Thomas said. “Every time a ball is on the floor, we want to have bodies on the ground, sacrificing for the betterment of the team. Defensively, we did a really good job. Offensively, we had some shots that didn’t fall, but that just happens sometimes. That’s part of the game.”
However, after battling to a stalemate in the first overtime session, it was the Lady Panthers of Chesapeake who proved to have the winning elexor. After an opening bucket by Jensen Warnock mere seconds into the second overtime, a 7-0 run by the visitors — including baskets from Webb and Karli Davis — put Chesapeake ahead by a 43-39 count.
Still, Clay didn’t give up. Chesapeake, who had a chance to ice the game with two free throws, missed both, and Warnock, who finished the contest with a game-high 14 rebounds to go along with nine points, went coast-to-coast off of the miss. Then, after forcing a turnover, Thomas’ group had a chance to tie with seconds remaining. Warnock went for the quick two, missed the initial shot at the rim, and was fouled, but missed the first free throw with 1.4 seconds remaining, and the second free throw — which was intentionally missed in order to give Clay a chance to tie — was rebounded by Chesapeake, who ran out the clock.
Even with the loss, however, Clay still sits with a 2-1 overall record, a 2-0 SOC I mark, and a excellent set of learned lessons — which can only help the Lady Panthers as they move forward in their overall quest to improve.
“That’s why today was such a good test for us,” Thomas said. “It helps put the girls in late-game situations and helps them learn how to maintain their poise through these types of games. It’s also a learning experience for me as well in terms of figuring out what we want to do at the end of a game. It’s a great learning experience for the girls and for me as well. This game prepares us for next week. We’ll come back fresh and ready to go as we get ready for New Boston on Thursday.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @KColleyPDT