JACKSON — When a unit is playing a team that is thought of as highly as the Waterford Wildcats’ girls basketball program is, the going can be rendered difficult even when said unit is playing at its very best.
But when shots aren’t falling, that only makes the going tougher.
The New Boston Tigers’ girls basketball program experienced the unfortunate perfect storm in that regard, as Waterford immediately jumped out to a blistering 24-2 advantage behind its combination of excellent defense, 48 combined points from Megan Ball, Alli Kern, and Rachael Adams, and a off night from the floor for the Lady Tigers, who connected on just two three-pointers during the contest, and never looked back as New Boston ultimately fell by a 55-22 tally in the Division IV, Jackson I District Finals at Jackson High School on Thursday evening.
And while the Lady Tigers’ season — even with a 19-5 overall record and the school’s first district final appearance since 2009 — ended far too soon, Kayla Wiley can rest her laurels on the heart that her girls displayed tonight.
“We struggled tonight,” Wiley said. “Waterford’s defense was well, but we struggled tonight from a shooting standpoint. Some of it was Waterford’s defense, and some of it was us. We missed some easy bunnies and did silly things that we don’t normally do, but everything, up until this point, was about tonight. Every practice, every game, every win, was about writing a new chapter inside the basketball program. Everything kind of came full circle.”
From the outset, the transition play that Ball and Kern brought to the table, along with their low-post play, proved to be too much for New Boston to overcome. When the pair weren’t sticking threes or driving into the lane for layups, the senior duo were getting on the pogo sticks for critical rebounds and putbacks as the duo combined for 18 tallies during the game-opening 24-2 spurt.
“Waterford was good tonight, but we also shot very poorly from the field,” Wiley said. “It was probably our worst shooting performance of the entire season, so that didn’t help.”
New Boston, however, did come alive in the second frame behind critical efforts from the very seniors that got them to this point.
Mariah Buckley, who fought off a nagging right knee en route to scoring a team-high seven points in the contest, drove inside for a layup to put up New Boston’s first field goal on the board. Then, Buckley’s play on the defensive end of the floor, along with the efforts of Kaylee Stone, allowed the Lady Tigers to obtain additional scoring opportunities as Peyton Helphinstine used a crafty finish to obtain the hoop and the harm, while Buckley and Ali Hamilton each added hard-fought buckets inside to cut the Waterford lead to 28-11 at the halftime break. Stone followed those efforts up by knocking down a deep jumper from the left wing with 6:02 to play in the third quarter to allow New Boston to close within 30-14 on a 12-6 push between the second and third quarters of action.
“In the second quarter, we came out in a man-to-man defensive look and supplied great pressure,” Wiley said. “Kaylee’s hands were active, and she supplied great ball pressure. Taylen Hickman did a great job in the man-to-man look as well, and Mariah did an excellent job in defensive transition with as many as five girls coming at her sometimes. They did well at that.”
New Boston, however, went cold again. After three straight points from Kern, Buckley added a pair of free throws from the charity stripe midway through the quarter. That would prove to be the only points tally over the next nine minutes for the Lady Tigers as a 19-0 Waterford run — spearheaded by 10 points from Kern, who scored a game-high 21 — closed the book on the affair.
“Their pressure just kind of kept us up-and-down,” Wiley said. “That’s something that we tried to work on, but we don’t have the whole season to work on something like that. We’re used to transition. That’s my fault. Maybe I should’ve been working on trying to slow it down during the season and run some halfcourt sets so that we would be better equipped to execute at that game when the time came. We have worked on it in games, it’s just when you’re in the moment, and you’re not playing a team that is like a Waterford, it’s hard to run your sets when you are getting what you want out in transition.”
With the loss, New Boston will have to bid their farewells to Buckley, Hamilton, Helphinstine, Stone, and Bri Humble, who played their final affairs as Lady Tigers on Thursday evening. Buckley’s mastery of the point guard position, along with Hamilton’s low-post ability, the three-point shooting and passing lane play of Helphinstine and Stone, and the low-post effectiveness that Humble brought to the table as the team’s defensive enforcer, will all be missed, as well as their personalities.
“Our seniors gave 100 percent, and they’re always going to,” Wiley said. “I don’t have to worry about what they’ll do after they graduate, because they’ll go out and be role models in this world.”
The cupboard, however, isn’t bare for New Boston. Sharpshooting wings Lexus Oiler and Sammy Oiler, along with energy bug Taylen Hickman and long, rangy Shelby Easter, who has a great deal of potential, lead a group of likely replacements. The aforementioned quartet will certainly be a factor in the rotation without much of a doubt.
“Coming up, it’s going to be a young team,” Wiley said. “I wouldn’t necessary say that next year’s a rebuilding year, because you still have Lexus and Sammy Oiler, along with Taylen and Shelby (Easter), among others. They didn’t get a lot of playing time because of how good the seniors were, but they’re good talents and they’re going to be right there.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @KColleyPDT