Central Catholic saw a 21-point lead dwindle down to single digits in the fourth quarter before rallying back to beat Lafayette Jeff 69-49 in its opening-round game in the J&C Classic at Harrison Tuesday night.
The Knights started three players just a little more than a week removed from playing in the Class A state volleyball finals — Cameron Onken, Emily Denhart and Emily Burks. Central Catholic, though, hardly looked rusty as they jumped out to a 22-12 lead, with Onken scoring eight of her game-high 19 points.
“I thought we came out really well and ran out transition game really good,” Central Catholic coach Craig DeVault said. “We stressed rebounding tonight because we knew that Jeff could crash the boards, and I thought we did that well early.”
Angela Tharp, one of the non-volleyball starters, gave the Knights a big lift early on her way to 12 points and 10 rebounds. Her 3-point shot with 2:19 left before halftime gave Central Catholic a 38-18 lead.
But the Bronchos fought their way back into the game, going on a 10-2 run to finish the quarter to trim the Knights lead to 40-28 at halftime. Lafayette Jeff forward Haley Carter came off the bench to score eight of her 12 points in the period to help the Bronchos rally. Kaylee Simms also scored 12 points for Jeff.
“We fought hard and our effort was there,” said first-year Jeff coach Andy Baker. “Turnovers (24) just killed us and fouls (31) killed us, too. We’re learning a new system, and it’s just going to take a while.”
Jeff’s foul situation was so bad that five players fouled out — starters Carlie Hinkel, Rylie Pittard and Simms, along with Jordan Richards and Carter. That left the Bronchos four players to finish the final 30 seconds of the game.
Despite the foul trouble, Jeff cut a 21-point third quarter Central Catholic lead (51-30) to nine points (55-46) with 4:51 left in the fourth quarter.
The Bronchos then forced two consecutive Knights turnovers to go right back on offense, but missed a 3-pointer and a putback on one possession and missed two free throws on the next, denying Jeff an opportunity to get the deficit within two possessions.
Denhart, who finished the game with 13 points, essentially put the game away with a three-point play and free throw on the Knights’ next two possessions.
“We’re a little disappointed (that we didn’t put the game away), but I’m happy we didn’t let them cut our nine-point lead deeper, and we came back stronger,” Tharp said about the Knights closing the game on a 14-3 run. “We didn’t win the first game here last year, so it feels really good to do it this time.”
Both teams struggled shooting from the field, with the Knights connecting on 35.8 percent of their shots (19 for 53) while the Bronchos made 28.8 percent of theirs (15 for 52).
“We did a lot of things to beat ourselves tonight,” Baker said. “That’s not taking anything away from Central Catholic, and they have a solid team. Our shooting was horrendous, but we’re trying some new things and I think there were some positives we can take from this.”