SOUTH WEBSTER — Simply put, the Minford Lady Falcons had no answers — once South Webster’s Bri Claxon quickly changed the questions.
That’s because Claxon — the Lady Jeeps’ five-foot, three-inch standout sophomore — erupted for a massive 28 points, including 16 in South Webster’s fourth-quarter comeback bid.
As a result, and in a game in which the hosts had to have, the young Lady Jeeps slipped past the visiting Lady Falcons 53-50 on Thursday night — in a key early-season Southern Ohio Conference Division II girls basketball bout.
But while Claxon kept the Lady Jeeps within striking distance all evening, it was indeed a senior’s shot that delivered that ultimate strike.
With 57 seconds remaining, South Webster’s Kenzie Hornikel, on her only field goal of the game in fact — hit a three-pointer off the wing, which lifted South Webster to a 50-48 advantage.
That was the seventh and final lead change, but the drama definitely wasn’t done — as the Falcons had one last opportunity at forcing overtime.
Minford senior Hannah Tolle, who rang in a huge three for a 46-42 Falcon cushion at the two-minute and 45-second mark, took another — and final — three-point attempt after the inbounds with four seconds remaining.
But Minford seemed unsure of itself as the play developed, the Jeeps defended Tolle well, and her three-ball at the buzzer misfired to give South Webster a much-needed victory.
The Lady Jeeps raised their record to 2-3 — and to 2-1 in the SOC II.
With Wheelersburg (2-0 SOC II), Northwest (3-0 SOC II) and Oak Hill (2-1 SOC II) having the best success so far in the division, it was important for the Lady Jeeps to remain in contention.
“We’ve been close in every game we’ve played so far. I told the girls to keep playing hard and that good things will happen,” said second-year SWHS coach Ryan Dutiel. “Tonight, it did.”
While Hornikel’s huge shot gave the Lady Jeeps the 50-48 lead, it was Claxon who carried them from opening tip to final whistle.
In amassing her 28 points, she scored 16 in the fourth frame — and finished with nine total field goals including a pair of treys, along with converting on seven of her 10 fourth-period foul shots.
With Minford leading 48-44, Claxon rattled in her third and final triple at the 1:27 mark.
Minford missed on the other end, and after Hornikel’s heroics put the Lady Jeeps ahead, it was still Claxon keeping South Webster in front from the free-throw line.
After the Jeeps ran off some clock with the Falcons finally fouling her with 13 seconds remaining, she made the first of a double-bonus situation — making it 51-49 after Minford’s Makenzie Watters split a double-bonus pair with 53 seconds showing.
With a dozen seconds to play, Watters once again split the double bonus, but this time Claxon collected both freebies — when she was fouled with only nine seconds to go.
Claxon’s other trifectas in the middle two periods played large roles as well, as her first kept South Webster within one at 13-12 in the second quarter while her second — off the wing with 2:40 remaining in the third and off a Baylee Cox assist — gave the Lady Jeeps their second lead at 29-26.
With five-and-a-half minutes remaining, Claxon’s old-fashioned three-point play once again gave South Webster the advantage — the fifth lead change of the night.
Her 28-point barrage on Thursday raised her season scoring average to 20.2 points per game through five.
“Bri is a very special player. She knows her role and is very gifted. She has a lot of God-given abilities that a lot of kids don’t have,” said Dutiel. “Having her is definitely a plus for us.”
And, indeed, a minus for Minford.
“We just lost Claxon. She was our whole focus. She ran everything for them. I mean she did. We just lost focus and lost her, and I even called a timeout to emphasis that, and we still lost her,” said second-year Minford mentor Shane Davis. “I don’t know exactly what happened there (when Claxon made three-pointer for 48-47 score) to tell you the truth. She had 28 and she’s a heckuva player. I’ve seen her play, she’s a great athlete, she has a motor, she doesn’t stop and I can’t say enough about her. We knew that coming in. Our whole focus was to stop her and make others beat us. And we didn’t do a good job of that.”
As to perhaps why, the truth — Davis added — was that his Lady Falcons “were not ready to play”.
The Falcons fell 60-52 against Oak Hill on Monday night, but at least — Davis believed — competed better in that contest.
“We had no energy tonight. It was definitely a huge dropoff from the Oak Hill game,” he said. “But we knew it was a battle coming in. Everybody in the SOC II, you have to play or you’re going to get beat like what happened here tonight. You have to show up in the conference this year. That’s the way it is.”
Still, Minford came close to escaping with the win.
Trailing 53-50, the Falcons — with four seconds left — called their final timeout towards setting up the game-tying trey.
Tolle’s try resembled a one-handed heave, as South Webster went up to double-team her — when she took a step over at the top of the key.
Ten of Tolle’s 12 points came after halftime, as she had three field goals and 5-of-6 foul shots — with no Minford bucket bigger than her trifecta with 2:45 to play.
Fellow senior Maddie Slusher, on five field goals and 5-of-6 free throws, paced the Lady Falcons with 17 points — as her two treys restored Minford’s lead at 17-16 and opened up a 36-32 advantage on the opening possession of the fourth.
The Falcons’ largest leads stood at six three times — at 8-2 in the opening quieter, at 13-7 in the second stanza, and at 38-32 with six minutes and 50 seconds remaining.
Watters’ wing three made it 13-7, as her two deuces and 3-of-6 fourth-quarter free throws gave her 10 points.
Livi Shonkwiler, who was running through the South Webster passing lanes and scoring on early layups — scored eight first-half points.
The Lady Jeeps committed 15 first-half turnovers, much to the dismay of Dutiel.
Baskets by Claxon and Faith Maloney were Webster’s only points of the entire first period, as they trailed 8-4 at the first stop, 21-18 at halftime and 33-32 following the third.
“In the first half, it was almost like we were so nervous about everything, and they were playing tremendous defense. They were shooting the passing lanes and we were playing timid. Then late in the game, we made some adjustments and started playing our style of ball,” said Dutiel. “We got a couple of turnovers off our press, started speeding the game up to more in our favor.”
That the Lady Jeeps did.
South Webster responded with seven unanswered points in a span of a minute and 18 seconds early in the fourth, as Cox scored a basket, Claxon connected on a pair of free throws at the 5:46 mark, and Claxon’s three-point play just 14 seconds later had completely erased the Lady Falcons’ final six-point lead (38-32).
The Lady Jeeps’ largest lead stood at three three times (29-26, 41-38 and 53-50), but Minford went on an 8-1 run of its own over a span of two-and-a-half minutes — as Makayla Watters got a rebound putback, Makenzie Watters made a basket and split her first double-bonus free throws, and finally Tolle’s triple made it 46-42.
But the Falcons failed to make 10 free throws out of 24 attempts, which loomed large late, as Cox converted 2-of-4 for South Webster — as she and Maloney managed double figures with 10 points apiece.
“We couldn’t put them away for whatever reason, but more than anything, we didn’t have that energy and sense of urgency. Nobody would step up, we missed a lot of easy short-range shots and layups, and I’m sure our foul shots were not a good percentage,” said Davis. “We just didn’t put it together tonight. It’s disappointing.”
The Falcons fell to 1-2 both ways with the loss, and will step out of the SOC II when they travel to Washington Court House on Saturday night (Dec. 7).
South Webster will return home, and return to SOC II action, on Monday against Eastern.
With Claxon having changed the questions, and the final narrative against Minford, will the Lady Jeeps’ season change its complexion?
“ I’m constantly talking to the girls about having heart and coming back from adversity. They took that to heart tonight. They came back, they never gave up, there wasn’t anybody in the huddle being negative, everybody was positive and were seeing what we were trying to do. They just really responded well. I’m thrilled to death. Any time you can get a win in the SOC II, that’s big,” said Dutiel. “It’s one of the toughest divisions in all of Ohio, just because of the competitive balance of everybody.”
* * *
Minford 8 13 12 17 — 50
S. Webster 4 14 14 21 — 53
MINFORD 50 (1-2, 1-2 SOC II)
Jaden Cartee 0 0-0 0, Ally Coriell 0 0-0 0, Makayla Watters 1 1-4 3, Makenzie Watters 3 3-6 10, Livi Shonkwiler 4 0-2 8, Ali Brumfield 0 0-0 0, Maddie Slusher 5 5-6 17, Hannah Tolle 3 5-6 12; TOTALS 16 14-24 50; Three-point goals: 4 (Maddie Slusher 2, Makenzie Watters and Hannah Tolle 1 apiece)
SOUTH WEBSTER 53 (2-3, 2-1 SOC II)
Faith Maloney 5 0-0 10, Liz Shupert 0 0-0 0, Kenzie Hornikel 1 0-0 3, Brooklyn Blanton 0 0-0 0, Rose Stephens 1 0-1 2, Baylee Cox 4 2-4 10, Bri Claxon 9 7-10 28; TOTALS 20 9-13 53; Three-point goals: 4 (Bri Claxon 3, Kenzie Hornikel 1)
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2019 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved