ROSEMOUNT — Breaking the 1,000-kill and 1,000-point milestones across a single athletic year is an accomplishment to behold, because it is certainly rare to find a student-athlete that is so talented across both sports.
On Thursday evening, however, Jensen Warnock accomplished exactly that — and scored a date to Prom all in one fell swoop.
The 5-10 junior, who has been a consistent force in the frontcourt for Clay throughout her varsity career, obtained her 1,000th point by hitting the back end of two early free throw attempts during the middle of the first quarter of play to accomplish the feat, and her eight-point outing, along with a monstrous 22-point, 12-rebound, 11-steal effort from Sophia Balestra and 17 points off of five three-pointers from Cameron DeLotell allowed Clay (10-5, 8-4 SOC I) to claim a 58-30 victory over Western in a conference bout that was held in Rosemount.
For Sthefany Thomas, watching the standout student and three-sport athlete accomplish such a strong feat was wonderful to behold — because as Thomas knows herself, 1,000 points is a special milestone that few players reach.
“It was just an honor to be able to experience that with her,” Thomas said. “I know that it’s my first year here, and I know that I’m just now jumping into the program, but just being here for such a big accomplishment is big. I know the feeling of reaching 1,000 points, and it’s just such a special accomplishment. It’s special with her family being here, and I thought that it was really special when she gave the ball to her Mom and went to hug her family after she got her 1,000th point. It was a great moment for a high school player to accomplish and just be able to share with her teammates at home with her families and friends here.”
As for Warnock, getting the milestone out of the way brought both joy and relief to her heart, especially considering that the rising junior was pinned to accomplish the feat against Whiteoak on Monday before inclement weather forced the postponement of the nonconference affair to Jan. 31.
“I was really glad to get it at home,” Warnock said. “I was hoping that (the game) wouldn’t get snowed out because all of my friends and my family were here to see this.”
Over the first minute and 15 seconds of the affair, Clay wasted no time jumping out to the point as the Lady Panthers used strong defensive pressure up top, along with production from its three-headed monster (Warnock, Balestra, and DeLotell) to jump out to a 7-0 advantage with 6:56 still to play in the opening quarter, forcing Western to take a quick timeout to regroup in the process.
However, Western, behind its scrappy guard play, rallied back into the fray. Sylvia Evans, who obtained five early first-quarter points en route to a game-high 15 for Western, used her early output to allow the Indians to go on a 9-2 rally in the opening period of action and tie the score.
“We got out to a quick lead, and then we just kind of fell back into the mentality of, ‘Well, we’ve got a good lead, let’s just kind of get comfortable,’” Thomas said. “I called a quick timeout to tell the girls that we had to keep our foot on the gas. A seven to 10-point lead, in basketball, can evaporate quickly. It’s such a game of runs.”
But when Warnock — who nailed a long two-point jumper to start the night’s scoring and added a low-post basket that pushed the Clay lead to three, 9-6, at one point — was fouled on a low-post shot attempt, the attention turned squarely to the free throw line. There, the junior missed the first free throw attempt but made the second with a clean swish of the net, sending the home crowd into a frenzy, and ultimately giving Clay the lead for good in the first quarter as the Lady Panthers finished the period up 12-9. Warnock ultimately finished the contest with eight points, five rebounds, three assists, and two steals on the evening.
“When I missed the first free throw, I said to myself, ‘Oh boy, here we go,’” Warnock said. “I said, ‘My gosh, I have to make this.’ I just took a deep breath and tried to focus on making it.”
And the Promposal following the game from West student Ryan Reynoso?
“I did not know that was coming,” Warnock said, laughing. “I guess my Mom (Julie) had been scheming things. I don’t know. It really surprised me.”
As the second quarter came around, Western was able to rally back again as the Indians, behind Evans, went on an 8-3 push to take a 17-15 advantage with 4:17 to play in the opening half of action. However, in a matter of two possessions, Clay was again able to use DeLotell’s shooting abilities to take the lead from good as the Lady Panthers opened the lead up to a 21-17 margin — and never trailed again over the final 20 minutes of the contest.
“I thought that our defensive effort and intensity was what changed the momentum of the game and was what really allowed us to build that lead,” Thomas said. “At first, the whole team was just focused on making sure that Jensen got her 1,000th point, which was awesome. She hit her first shot, and we were all just thinking, “It’s coming! It’s coming!” Then it slowed down a little bit. However, once she got it, it got the pressure off of everybody’s shoulders, and the girls just started playing and kept being aggressive.”
While the anticipation of Warnock eclipsing a rare plateau — becoming the first girls basketball hand since Lexie Gilliland in 2015 to achieve the feat — was over, the anticipation of watching outstanding play from Balestra and DeLotell had just begun. The duo, in fact, scored each of Clay’s last 13 points in the first half while sparking the Lady Panthers on the 13-1 run that not only gave the Lady Panthers the lead for good, but allowed Clay to take a 28-18 halftime lead. Balestra ended up finishing with the aforementioned triple-double while DeLotell, who Thomas lauded as having a “hand-down, man-down mentality,” nailed three of her five three-pointers in the first half en route to obtaining 11 of her 17 points in the frame.
“Sophie is all over the place,” Thomas said. “She’s our most consistent player. She gets rebounds, steals, layups, and shots. She’s just all over the place. Big ups to her for being consistent and helping our team get a great win. Cam’s shooting percentages are incredible,” Thomas said. “They’re really high. She’s been our most consistent three-point shooter and perimeter shooter for the majority of the season. If you just give her an inch, she’ll let the three go. She’s been our most consistent shooter, and I’m really proud of the way that she’s stepped up this year shooting the basketball.”
“We’ve been working on our two-on-two press, and Sophie’s really been good getting into the passing lanes lately,” Warnock said. “Then, you can always count on Cameron to make the three.”
In the second half, Clay only continued to build its advantage as Balestra continued her activity at the top of the Lady Panthers’ zone press. The junior forward ultimately obtained 13 points over the final two stanzas — much of which came off of the upperclassman’s own ability to deflect passes, obtain steals, and run the floor effectively — en route to allowing Clay to finish off the contest on a 43-13 run.
“We built that lead on the defensive end,” Thomas said. “It led to transition baskets for us on the offensive end, and that was primarily because of Sophie. We just played a zone press, and it led to a lot of turnovers that were converted into points.”
With the victory, Clay will turn its attention to an away bout against Scioto Valley Conference member Chillicothe Huntington on Monday evening — a welcome sign for all involved considering the snow and sleet that left behind affected travel plans, school schedules, and basketball games in its wake.
“I’m thankful that we’re actually back playing again,” Thomas said. “As far as the rest of the season is concerned, it’s just about competing every night. You have to come ready to compete, take care of the basketball, and play great defense. All of those qualities give yourself a shot to win every single game. That’s my outlook on things. If we’re disciplined, we take care of the basketball, and take care of the things that we can control, we’re going to put ourselves in a position to win or compete with any team.”
But on Thursday evening, the attention was all on celebrating a special achievement that certainly puts a special student-athlete in rarefied air.
“I’m grateful to have two really good teams that I can play on,” Warnock said. “I’ve had many great coaches, especially my Dad (Todd) growing up. He really helped me. Scott Cayton and Kayla Cook were a big help the last two years as well, so I’m grateful.”