JACKSON — When a team goes up against one of the state’s premier programs, the task is usually an uphill battle.
And unfortunately, the Clay Panthers’ girls basketball program faced that very uphill battle against the Waterford Wildcats’ girls basketball program on Sunday afternoon as Alli Kern’s 17 points and 13 points apiece from Megan Ball and Rachael Adams spelled defeat for Clay as the Lady Panthers fell to the Lady ‘Cats, 52-20, in a Division IV, Jackson I District Semifinal that was held at Jackson High School.
For Sthefany Thomas, the end result certainly didn’t come about because of a lack of effort.
“Waterford’s a really good team,” Thomas said. “They’re ranked No. 1 for a reason. We knew coming into this game that it was going to be a challenge. Our message was just about competing with them, playing hard, and taking care of the basketball so that we’d have a chance to win the game. They just got off to a really quick start early in the game, and just put us in a hole. It took us over seven minutes before we were able to score a point, so that’s tough at the beginning.”
After trailing by a 22-2 count after a quarter of play, Clay got a lift from their senior trio of Sydney Osborn, Regan Osborn, and Hunnter Adams, who provided a great deal of energy in the Lady Panthers’ 2-1-2 pressure defense. Adams forced tie ups in the low post while Sydney Osborn — who knocked down an open jumper for Clay’s only points in the first quarter of action — along with Regan, caused problems at the head of the defense. Jensen Warnock’s ability to attack downhill and draw contact, along with Sophia Balestra’s energy from a rebounding standpoint, allowed Clay to hold Waterford to 12 points in the second quarter, including three field goals total in the frame.
“I think that the girls responded well,” Thomas said. “We picked up our defensive intensity, and that was what I wanted out of them. They didn’t back down from the challenge. They kept fighting. At times, Waterford actually struggled our 2-1-2 pressure, too. It was good to see the girls continuing to fight and compete.”
In the second half, Clay ultimately fought Waterford to within a four-point margin as the Lady ‘Cats only outscored the Lady Panthers by an 18-14 count during the half. Warnock and Balestra, who combined for a team-high six points — with the latter adding six rebounds — along with Adams’ two blocks and the continued on-ball defensive intensity of the Osborn sisters, were critical in Clay’s efforts during the half.
With the season at its end, Clay will say farewell to Adams, Regan Osborn, and Sydney Osborn, whom were critical factors in the Lady Panthers’ 15-9 season. The trio each brought a consistent energy level defensively to help the Lady Panthers in their efforts to become a stout defensive unit. Clay allowed just 43 points per game this season as a whole.
“Besides their crazy personalities,” Thomas laughed, “I’m just going to miss how relentless they are on the defensive end of the floor. They just played so hard, and they led by example. That’s the way that I want my players to play. I want them to go all out on the floor every single night and in practice, and Hunnter, Regan, and Sydney pushed each other in practice. Sydney and Regan usually guard each other in practice, and even though they are sisters, they go at it against each other. Hunnter is just a blue-collar worker. She digs deep and will go through a wall for her team. I’m going to miss them a lot.”
And their unselfishness and ability to lead by example is what will make the trio so incredibly missed.
“I’m so proud of the seniors,” Thomas said. “I couldn’t ask for a better group of seniors as a first-year head coach. They played hard all season long, and they’re the kind of players and kids that just do what you ask them to do. They’re just going to play hard every single night and every single practice. They’re great kids with big hearts. It’s just an honor to be able to coach them.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @KColleyPDT