Western Mennonite High School’s girls basketball team hadn’t been together in five days before walking on the floor to play at Kennedy Tuesday evening.
For the first three quarters the No. 10-ranked Trojans controlled the tempo and pace of the Tri-River Conference game against the No. 2-ranked Pioneers and looked poised to pull off the upset.
But over the course of the final four minutes of the game Western Mennonite took control, making every big play on both ends of the floor for a 58-51 win.
“I think not playing together for a while kind of affected us,” said Western Mennonite post Emma Gibb, who scored 20 points. “Our shooting was a little off and we weren’t all together.
“It was like one person would be one step ahead and we would be one step behind. Fourth quarter we brought everything together and got that unity back.”
With the team’s sixth consecutive win – and second in a row against a ranked Tri-River team after defeating No. 1 Regis a week ago – Western Mennonite improves to 12-2 in the Tri-River and 19-3 overall.
Upset minded Kennedy drops to 9-5 in the Tri-River and 15-6 overall, but with the league getting four state playoff berths this year, the Trojans look like a team the state will have to reckon with.
“Ultimately Kennedy played really, really well,” Western Mennonite coach Robby Gilliam said. “My hat goes off to them the way that they shot tonight, the defense that they played.
“I think that’s what makes them so good is you don’t quite know what’s coming at you, and they get every ounce of talent out of those girls. Tonight it was nice to weather the storm a little bit, but still come out with a victory.”
A 11-2 run in the first quarter from a bevy of mid-range jump shots from Phoebe Hill and Hannah Kloft gave the Trojans a 13-7 lead.
Western Mennonite was up 19-18 in the second quarter, but Kennedy sophomore Taylor Brown came off the bench and hit four 3-pointers before halftime to give the Trojans a 32-27 advantage at the break.
“She’s been out for two weeks with an ankle injury and in practice I’m always working on those small details of form and function and setting their feet,” Kennedy co-head coach Peter Hall said. “When she was injured I was like, this is the time, you can’t run, you can’t jump, just sit there and work on your form.
“We’ve had moments of this where she’ll hit three or four in a row. For her to be a sophomore and doing what we’re doing she’s ecstatic because she’s only going to get better.”
Kennedy pushed its lead to as much as nine points in the third quarter at 44-35 on a floating jump shot from the free throw line with 25 seconds left in the period.
But the Pioneers made up ground, Kari Louthan sparked an 8-0 run – including Jenna Christenson’s steal and lay-in that put Western Mennonite up for good – with three minutes left and the team went 7 of 10 from the free throw line in the final 45 seconds for the win.
Christenson scored 17 points and made big defensive plays down the stretch.
“We finally got our team chemistry together,” said Christenson, a junior. “Halfway through the fourth quarter our coach told us, we were down by like four or five points, he’s like we are going to win this game, we have to play smart and have confidence.
“I think the playing smart really hit us. Getting fouls, turnovers, little things can really affect us if we play smart. I think we started playing smart as a team.”
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