Panthers use Warnock’s hot hand, Balestra’s defense to top Valley


By Derrick Webb - PDT Sports Writer



PORTSMOUTH — With her teammates struggling to score early, Clay’s Jensen Warnock put on her working boots Thursday night and carried the load.

Warnock scored 18 of the Panthers’ first 30 points, keeping them above water and helping to fight off Valley’s scoring duo of Bre Call and Karsyn Conaway.

Eventually, the senior forward’s efforts were rewarded in the form of a 48-42 non-league win over the Indians.

“She’s so important to us and what I tell her every night when she goes out is that I don’t care how many points she scores,” Clay coach Scott Artis said. “She’s so good in other aspects of the game. When she goes out and gives us a triple-double or when she can rebound … for us, the scoring is great but we need her to be that complete player. That’s what she did tonight.”

Warnock ended the night with a game-high 22 points alongside eight rebounds.

She was the early spark while teammate Sophia Balestra helped to seal the deal late.

Balestra, a senior center, used her effort on the defensive end to disrupt the Indians’ passing lanes, convert turnovers into transition points and make trips to the foul line.

“When our offense isn’t there, I try to focus on defense and a lot of times, that does lead to offense with steals and everything else,” Balestra said. “Tonight, I thought we did really well switching screens and I thought that helped because they weren’t getting open looks. We were playing good help defense and stopping drives.”

At 5-foot-8, Balestra isn’t your run-of-the-mill center. But she makes her living not with her size, but rather the way in which she goes about her business.

“Sophia’s length is an advantage for us,” Artis said. “A lot of people underestimate her length. She’s able to get in there and get balls that others can’t. Her effort is always one-hundred percent. You can always count on that. She’s not your typical center but she’s so long and so quick. She picked us up tonight.”

Artis said that he’s had his team trying something new over the past week in practice … not in the way they play, but in the way they think.

“We’ve kind of been a bit different this week in practice and we’ve tried a different philosophy,” Artis said. “I think it really showed tonight. They were really clicking and it was, by no means, a perfect game. But a lot of things were clicking for us that haven’t been. So a strong game for us and I was really proud of the effort.”

Tale of the tape

Neither team hit their first field goal until the 5:21 mark in the first quarter. That’s when Warnock gave Clay (8-3) a 3-1 lead. But from that point on, the contest was about as nip and tuck as they come.

Call hit a 3 with 2:13 left in the first to give Valley (6-5) a 10-6 lead before Warnock went deep again just before the quarter ended, cutting the edge to 10-9. The second saw more of the same as the two continued to trade punches with Clay taking a trim 20-19 lead into the break.

The Indians fought back in the third, led by Conaway’s scoring efforts, forcing a 30-30 tie going into the final eight-minute sequence.

Call dialed long distance with 4:56 remaining in the ballgame, putting Valley ahead 37-36. But Jaelyn Warnock soon answered with a 3 of her own, followed by back-to-back buckets from Cameron DeLotell and Jensen Warnock, to cap a 7-0 run and hand Clay a 43-37 lead.

From that point on, with Balestra leading the way on the defensive end, the Indians failed to take advantage of their opportunities on the offensive end and the Panthers hit their free throws down the stretch.

Stat book

Jensen Warnock’s 22 points and eight rebounds were followed by DeLotell’s 11 points and six boards. Jaelyn Warnock ended the night with nine nine points and five rebounds, Balestra had six points and eight rebound, and Skylar Artis failed to score but passed out six assists.

Call led the Indians’ efforts, scoring 17 points while Conaway followed with 10 of her own. Bailee Day was also a factor, finishing with seven points and 11 rebounds.

What’s on tap

Both teams return to action next Thursday in conference home dates. Valley looks to bounce back against Oak Hill while the Panthers look to keep things rolling against Green.

“Our effort. That’s what we focused on tonight … putting in one-hundred percent all the time,” Warnock said. “That just helps us pull the game out, every time.”

BOX SCORE

Valley: 10-9-11-12 — 42

Clay: 9-11-10-18 — 48

Valley: 16-55 FG, 4-6 FT, 6-22 3pt., 30 rebounds (Day 11), 15 turnovers, 8 assists (Call 3). Scoring: Call 17, Conaway 10, Day 7, Buckle 4, Gilliland 4.

Clay: 15-38 FG, 12-22 FT, 6-14 3pt., 32 rebounds (Je. Warnock 8, Balestra 8), 16 turnovers, 6 assists (Artis 6). Scoring: Je. Warnock 22, DeLotell 11, Ja. Warnock 9, Balestra 6.

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By Derrick Webb

PDT Sports Writer

Reach Derrick Webb at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930, by email at dwebb@aimmediamidwest.com, or on Twitter at @dw1509.

Reach Derrick Webb at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930, by email at dwebb@aimmediamidwest.com, or on Twitter at @dw1509.