OKEMOS – Aazh Nye sensed a few nervous moments from her teammates.
In a season that’s featured plenty of early success for the East Lansing girls basketball team, there have been few moments when it has found itself behind in the final quarter.
“I could tell that our body language was going down so I was really trying to bring the energy up and determination,” Nye said. “(I wanted to) give my teammates affirmation that we can pull this together and we can do this with aggressiveness.”
Nye succeeded in her mission and helped the Trojans take control of the CAAC Blue race.
The junior had 23 points while leading Class A No. 9-ranked East Lansing to a 49-43 victory over Okemos in a matchup of unbeaten teams in CAAC Blue play.
“Aazh is a warrior and I’d take her in the battle any time,” East Lansing coach Rob Smith said. “She showed that when things were difficult and became adverse when she picked up the fouls, she was going to stay in there and do the right things and execute for the team.
“For a while there she took the team on her back, and I couldn’t be more proud of her, especially knocking down that big 3 at the end and then the free throws at the end as well.”
Nye hit the go-ahead 3 with just under three minutes remaining for East Lansing (9-1, 7-0 CAAC Blue), which closed the game on an 11-2 run while winning its eighth straight since a loss to DeWitt.
Sophomore Laya Hartman had 19 points and freshman Jasmine Clerkley added 12 points for Okemos (8-3, 6-1), which had its chances late. The Chiefs overcame an eight-point deficit in the fourth quarter and led by three after a basket by Clerkley with three minutes left.
But East Lansing finished strong with Nye hitting the go-ahead 3 with 2:44 to play. Amelia McNutt made five of six free throws in the final two minutes to help the Trojans close out the win and take a big step toward a league championship.
“This is a huge step and I’m really proud, but our work is not finished at all,” Nye said. “We have a lot of work to do and I’m looking forward to that.”
First-year Okemos coach Kristen Rasmussen was proud of the way her young team fought Friday despite just coming short against East Lansing.
“They went out there and they just fought hard. Yeah, we were up three with three minutes left and we come down and throw two turnovers and we miss three shots and it could be youth,” Rasmussen said. “In all honesty, I’m not sure how many of our players have played in really tough games like that in their career. It’s just learning who we are and how to better ourselves as a team.”
Contact Brian Calloway at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @brian_calloway.