If Hillcrest’s girls basketball team were a race car, Kaycee Gerald would be the engine that powers it.
Gerald scored 19 points in a 49-39 win at Glendale on a night when points were precious for both teams and defense dictated the pace of play. The Ozark Conference win could be a turning point for Hillcrest (7-6), which played a packed December schedule that featured three tournaments, including one in Orlando, Florida.
Gerald, an all-state guard, was the top returning scorer for a Hornets team that reached the Class 4 final four last season, but stumbled in December.
“I think we are flowing really well together now,” Gerald said. “We haven’t really played as much together because people are new and we just weren’t as experienced as last year. Now we’re getting the hang of it.”
Gerald spent much of the first half on the bench in foul trouble at Glendale, but came off the bench with all pistons firing. She went on a one-woman 8-0 scoring run early in the second quarter before her third personal foul parked her back on the bench until the second half.
“I felt kind of bad sitting there,” Gerald said. “I was trying to get on the court as fast as I could.”
Jordan Pryor scored 10 first half points in Gerald’s absence.
“I was really trying to cheer (Pryor) on and keep her shooting,” Gerald said.
Hillcrest coach Jeni Hopkins turned to some reserve players to nurse a lead on the scoreboard. With Gerald out, backup point guard Sarah Hale played extended minutes.
“Obviously, you don’t like your best ball-handler on the bench, but I’m super proud of our subs coming in,” Hopkins said. “I think Sarah Hale, who is a freshman, came in there and had a breakout game really taking care of the ball, making some good passes and trying to get our offense going.”
After Gerald’s second-quarter surge, Glendale’s defense limited her to seven points in the second half. Glendale (6-6) coach Renee Temple tasked senior Morgan Zimmerman with guarding the speedy Gerald.
“Kaycee does a nice job, she’s a good player. Morgan loves that assignment,” Temple said. “(Zimmerman) wants the best player, that’s her request, so she’s guarded the best player every game for us in 12 games.”
Forwards Gabby Mathews and Kaitlyn Baird led Glendale with nine points each. Glendale went on a late 11-2 scoring run late in the game to cut Hillcrest’s lead to six points, but the Hornets held on for the win.
Glendale played with two seniors out with chronic injuries, Mariah Starks with an ankle injury and Teaira Clancy with a back injury. The injuries shuffled the Falcons’ lineup.
“They’re going to fight every possession, but they were in some different positions and had to step up and fill those roles for the kids that were out,” Temple said.
Hopkins said Glendale did a good job of moving the ball with passes, but that Hillcrest tried to keep the Falcons uncomfortable by moving with the ball. The constant switching helped hold Glendale to 39 points.
“We played four different defenses tonight, so changing up our defenses, I think, was a big key,” Hopkins said.
Both teams return to the hardwood Monday, Jan. 11. Hillcrest continues a stretch of in-city games by visiting Kickapoo, while Glendale hosts Lebanon. Both games are Ozark Conference tilts.
Hillcrest 49, Glendale 39
Hillcrest—Kaycee Gerald 19, Jordan Pryor 10, Mikhala McCullough 6, Laurnea Jarman 5, Jasmyn Johnson 4, Sarah Hale 4, Reagan Jamison 1
Glendale—Gabby Mathews 9, Kaitlyn Baird 9, Hannah Pinkston 6, Keaira Clancy 6, Anna Frederick 3, Allie Haden 3, Morgan Zimmerman 3