NEW BOSTON — Buckling down and focusing can be hard to do for a teenager with the weekend drawing near.
However, if Mariah Buckley was looking more forward to enjoying Winter Storm Hunter than Thursday evening’s SOC I bout against the Clay Panthers’ girls basketball program, the senior point guard had a hard time showing it.
Buckley, who has been a steady and calming presence in the backcourt throughout her career in a New Boston uniform, provided a storm of her own inside Homer Pellegrino Memorial Gymnasium on Thursday evening by scoring a whopping 36 points against Clay, which outlasted a strong 22-point performance from Clay’s Cameron DeLotell as New Boston ultimately took home a 74-51 victory over Clay in a SOC I girls basketball contest inside Glenwood High School to solidify control over second place in the SOC I conference standings.
For Kayla Wiley, Buckley’s efforts, along with the performance of fellow classmate and four-year varsity letterman Ali Hamilton, were nothing short of strong, to say the least.
“Mariah was hitting,” Wiley said. “She’s a good player. A lot of teams plan for Ali down low, and Ali’s very good, but Mariah came to play tonight. Ali struggled a little bit offensively, but defensively, she forced Clay to alter its shots, and Mariah really did a great job taking advantage on the offensive end.”
On the visitors side of the scoreboard, the turnover battle — an Achilles heel that Clay has battled all season long — is what ultimately proved to be the main factor on Thursday evening for Sthefany Thomas’ basketball team.
“I’ve been emphasizing to the girls about the importance of taking care of the basketball and limiting our turnovers each and every game,” Thomas said. “That’s our main goal in getting over the hump.”
From the outset, the points came in a fast and furious manner as Clay and New Boston combined for four field goals in a 47 second span — with New Boston, behind its defensive pressure — ultimately jumping out to a 6-3 lead after forcing three early Clay turnovers. With the game looking like it was slipping from the Lady Panthers’ grasp early on, Thomas alertly dialed the phone and called a timeout to reel her team back in.
“We knew that it was going to be an emotional game,” Thomas said. “We were playing for second place in the SOC I, so it was a lot of emotion, nerves, and jitters on both ends. I called timeout to settle things down and keep our composure. We spoke about that, and once we settled down, we took better care of the ball.”
After an and-one from Hamilton allowed New Boston to take a 9-3 advantage — its largest of the quarter — Clay ultimately found a sense of calm in DeLotell’s marksmanship from all around the floor. The junior, who scored each of the Lady Panthers’ first eight points of the contest, scored five of those eight tallies during an 11-2 spurt that gave Clay its largest lead of the contest at a 14-11 tally. The wired-to-score shooting guard ultimately finished with six three-pointers during the affair en route to her 22-point outburst.
“Cameron had such a good game and opened up the floor for us,” Thomas said. “We were able to stay in the game on the offensive end because of that. It hurts that we have Lauren Campbell and Jaelyn Warnock out due to injury. That definitely hurts our rotation for sure, but you still have to play through that.”
“Cameron’s a great shooter,” Wiley said. “We planned on not letting her catch the ball and get open, but she moves, gets open, and uses her strength very well. She’s a great shooter. I believe that she’s a great player in general.”
Suddenly, however, Clay had the momentum, which meant that it was Wiley’s turn to use a timeout with less than three minutes to play in the opening quarter of action.
“I just told them that they had to want it,” Wiley said. “They had to sit down and play defense. We weren’t going to win the game on the offensive glass, because other than Mariah, we really weren’t scoring that well. I just told them, ‘We’ve got to win it on the defensive end.’ They responded by going about three or four minutes with good, solid defense. Clay’s a good basketball team. They’re improving and will be a tough team down the road if we see them during tournament time.”
And just like Thomas’ timeout at the very beginning of the quarter, Wiley’s timeout paid dividends as New Boston ultimately followed with a 7-0 spurt, which began with two critical buckets from Lexus Oiler and ended with a Buckley layup with less than 2.5 seconds left in the quarter to take an 18-14 advantage at the end of the opening quarter of play.
In the second quarter, Jensen Warnock and Regan Osborn, again, battled back for the Lady Panthers. Warnock, who obtained 11 points, eight rebounds, three assists, and two steals during the contest, and Osborn, who put together eight points, three rebounds, and two assists, scored the first four points of the quarter together to tie the score at 18-all. Osborn put together her aforementioned effort despite nursing a high ankle sprain, according to Thomas.
“Regan gives 100 percent every time she steps out on the court,” Thomas said. “She leaves it all out on the floor and plays extremely hard. With her being a senior, she realizes that this is her last go-around. She plays so hard. I don’t think that she knows anything else, to tell you the truth. That’s just nature to her.”
But as Clay closed in, Buckley kicked her abilities into high gear. Her ability to finish through contact to drop in an and-one, along with a Sammy Oiler trey, allowed New Boston to establish a lead that it wouldn’t relinquish as Buckley, who mainpulated the pick-and-roll flawlessly while draining her own fair share of long-range bombs — four in all — allowed New Boston to ultimately sprint out to a 37-29 advantage at the halftime break.
“Mariah’s got a lot of finesse to her,” Wiley said. “She doesn’t force too much. She’ll hit the open teammate when she’s there or she knock down the open shot when it’s there. As far as getting to the basket, she uses her quicks and her smarts to say, ‘OK, do I have that lane to drive?’ If she does, she’ll take it, if not, she’ll back it out and run the offense.”
“Mariah had a really good game,” Thomas said. “I thought that we could’ve done a better job containing her and not letting her get open looks through the game, but those are mental breakdowns that we’ll just have to do a better job at.”
As Buckley continued her torrid scoring pace — adding 12 additional tallies in the third frame to finish with 30 points at the end of three quarters of play — several additional hands stepped up to allow New Boston to keep its lead.
When the Lady Tigers closed to within 43-36 behind five early third-quarter points from DeLotell, Taylen Hickman responded with four critical points — including one play where the forward beat all defenders down the floor and made a nice up-and-under move to ultimately increase the Lady Tigers’ lead to 53-39 late in the third quarter of action. The abilities of Adrienne Shultz and Kaylee Stone to faceguard Warnock and DeLotell also had an impact as Clay never closed the gap to single-digits again over the rest of the affair.
“Taylen Hickman had a couple of solid rebounds for us and made a nice little post move to get a basket down low,” Wiley said. “I was really impressed with our effort, one through nine. I had Adrienne Shultz come in and play good, solid defense, and Shelby Easter came in, made some good moves down low, and got to the line a couple of times. Kaylee Stone supplied excellent on-ball defense on Jensen Warnock.”
“New Boston did a good job of face-guarding Jensen the entire game,” Thomas said. “They made it hard for her to catch the ball.”
With the victory, New Boston improved its overall record to 12-2 overall and 9-1 in the SOC I. The Lady Tigers will face West Union on Monday evening at 6 p.m. Clay, who fell to 9-5 overall and 7-4 in the league, will also host a nonconference opponent on Monday evening when the Lady Panthers play host to Whiteoak.