Basketball is one of the most physical sports that exist.
If you don’t believe that, you definitely weren’t in attendance at Northwest on Saturday afternoon when the Lady Mohawks fell to South Webster, 49-40.
As the girls basketball tournament nears, the physical element of the game increases.
Such was the case in this contest, as two scrappy groups collided on the court throughout the afternoon. That physicality can be expected around this time of year, after all.
“I feel like in tournaments especially they kind of let you play,” Lady Jeeps head coach Kristie Johnson said. “When you get to the district level, they have the tendency to let you play a little bit so I’m thankful that type of game to prepare us for that physicality.”
Although Northwest would come up short in the game, the drastic improvement the Lady Mohawks have made as the season has progressed is evident.
“Our first meeting against Webster, they beat us 57 to 19,” Northwest head coach Dave Frantz said. “We played horrible, they played great, and then tonight I can’t say enough about my kids.”
“Every kid I had on the court tonight and even the ones on the bench were ready to go in, focused, and ready to play. I think we’re a different team than even a month ago, but it’s because of the work they put in in practice.”
Sustaining the ball on offense played a big part in the rematch for the Mohawks, as they were able to maintain possession and run more half court sets by cutting down on turnovers.
“Northwest has improved tremendously, Frantz has done a good job with them,” Johnson said. “I thought that they did a lot better at taking care of the ball than they did the first time.”
To start the game, both sides searched for an offensive player to lean on.
Early for the Mohawks, it was Valerie Eury who scored four in the opening frame. Eury did a good job of attacking her defender and getting to the foul line, and would finish the night with a team-high 13 points.
Eury has been vital to her team’s scoring success this season, but most importantly her unselfishness has been a huge boost.
“It’s not like anyone on this team is worried about how many points they have or anything like that,” Frantz said. “I know Val is our leading scorer, and she had a fast break and fed Haidyn Waimsley down on a layup. That’s just unselfish play, and for us to be where we’re wanting to go we have to have that unselfish play.”
The aforementioned Wamsley posted nine points herself on the game.
After the first, Northwest was up 10-7.
Out of the gates in the second quarter, Avery Zempter knotted the score at 10 with a three-pointer.
Zempter had nine in the game, hitting a three in the first three quarters. Her performance was all a part of Johnson trying to build her confidence as a scorer.
“We’ve been working with her a lot,” Johnson said. “We told them, everybody’s ammo right now is to shut down Jo and Maddie Cook. That’s what I would do if I was going to play us, and the other ones really need to step up and she has.”
“She’s been shooting really well the last week in practice, so we’ve just got to pull that confidence over to game situations.”
In a quarter with six lead changes, South Webster got one more score than the Lady Mohawks to take a 22-20 halftime lead.
The third quarter saw the Jeeps jump out to a 14-5 overall edge to take a 36-25 lead after three quarters of play.
After a pair of Eury free throws tied the game at 24 with 6:28 left in the third, South Webster went on a 12-0 advantage.
Experimenting with different lineups, the Jeeps were able to take advantage of the size discrepancies on the floor and worked their way down low for some easy scores.
As a result, senior Ellie Jo Johnson had a game-high 14 points, and junior Madison Cook added 13. The majority of their scoring came from inside the paint.
“We were able to utilize our size, especially in the second half,” Johnson said. “Since they went triangle and two on us, they did a nice job of containing Jo so we had to find a way to score. We decided to go big on our lineup and feed it inside.”
That big third quarter propelled South Webster ahead by just enough, as they kept their lead out of reach during the fourth.
The Jeeps continued to strike from inside, scoring almost at will down low. In the second half, Frantz saw an area of growth for his team to pursue moving forward.
“I think one of the issues that we have to deal with as soon as the season is over is strength,” Frantz said. “As a team, we are not real strong and Kristie I think saw that and she attacked us down low a little bit.”
An Abby Baer score off a rebound with 1:05 remaining cut the South Webster lead to single digits again, but the Jeeps closed it out down the stretch to win 49-40.
Northwest put forth a good battle, even getting quality minutes from bench players like Skyler LeBrun, Sylar Patty, and Terah Webb.
Frantz was impressed with the play of LeBrun and Webb. Webb would hit a three in the closing seconds of the game, and both gave the Mohawks some flexibility off the bench.
“Those two came in and showed poise,” Frantz said. “They played hard and weren’t throwing the ball away, and that was the type of minutes I needed from my bench. I’m so proud of everyone who stepped in.”
With the game in the books, it’s now tournament time for both schools.
Northwest will take on Huntington Ross in a game they anticipate will be tightly contested.
“Monday night we have a really good Huntington Ross team that we scouted,” Frantz said.” They’re a seven seed, we’re a 10 seed, so obviously we are the underdog. I think how we’re playing now, we’re better than a 10 seed.”
It’s the most wonderful time of the year for Johnson, who says she and South Webster love the tournament.
“I absolutely love tournaments,” Johnson said. “Love them. I live for this. No matter what kind of year you have, good year or bad year, it all starts over right now.”
“It’s a whole new season, a whole new outlook, a whole new mentality. You lose and you’re done.”
It won’t be easy for the Jeeps in their first round game, either.
“We know we’ve got Eastern Meigs first, and man it’s not an easy first game at all,” Johnson said. “We’re pretty well matched and it could go either way.”