For the first five minutes, the girls basketball season opener for Waverly and East Lansing looked like the sort of hard-fought battle between area heavyweights that fans have come to expect from these two programs.
After that, not so much, as the Trojans went on a 20-4 run and never looked back in a 72-44 win over the Warriors on Friday night.
Five East Lansing players, all seniors, scored in double figures, led by Piper Tucker’s 17 points in a contest that was dominated by the Trojan frontcourt.
“Overall, the seniors really showed poise when Waverly stayed with us in the beginning,” Trojan coach Rob Smith said. “They really pulled it together and executed, defensively and offensively.”
Kelcie Haizlip scored 14, Taylor Gordon had 11 and Kennedy Marker and Grace Whelan each added 10. Of those, only Gordon stands less than 5-11, and it showed early. Of East Lansing’s 16 first-half field goals, 12 of them were either layups or putbacks.
Victoria Milton was the only returning starter who played for the Warriors, who were without injured center Breanna Mobley.
Smith acknowledged that her absence, as well as Waverly’s general inexperience, was a factor in the large margin of victory.
“We were deep tonight,” he said. “They had a tough injury in Mobley, which really slowed them down in terms of matching up with us. We know that, three months from now, they’re going to be a totally different team. “
Waverly coach Dan Carr said that the game, his debut as a varsity head coach, served as a lesson for his young team.
“Obviously, we have a lot of holes we need to fill,” Carr said. “This is a group of girls who, with one exception, have no experience in a big game like this. East Lansing is a great measuring stick, they know how to play basketball.”
Milton led Waverly with 11 points and Warrior freshman Shadaira McCarty added 9 in her varsity debut, including a short jumper that tied the game 10-10 with 3:09 left in the first quarter.
But the Trojans took control from there, ending the first on an 8-0 run and taking a 30-14 lead on a free throw by Whelan with 2:38 left in the second and taking a 40-20 advantage into the locker room at the half.
Waverly scored the first seven points of the second half, but East Lansing snuffed out whatever hope the Warriors may have had of a comeback with a 13-0 run from there, stretching the lead to 53-27 with 2:57 left in the third quarter.
Waverly had a scary moment early in the fourth, when Milton went down with an injury and had to be helped up off of the floor and out of the gym. Carr said the injury, to her right ankle, was not as serious as it looked at first.
“She wanted to get back in and play,” he said. “She’s a fierce competitor, and we’ll get her back as soon as possible.”
While Carr struggled to find something positive to take from the game, he said that his team is a work in progress.
“They didn’t look as good as they will, and as they need to,” Carr said. “But I’m confident that we’re going to see improvement. There’s no miracle fix, this is the first game of a three-month season.”
Smith said that he was satisfied with what he saw.
“They didn’t play quite as well as they did in practice, but they were close at times,” he said. “They showed signs of what they could be, and on the first night, to put up 72 points on a very proud program like Waverly, that’s a good night.”