Dogfight in the Dog Pound
J. C. Tilton
The opening round of the Dixie Girls Holiday tournament had plenty of action for fans in attendance. The first game saw Northridge come from behind to win their first round game. Stivers buried several 3 point goals in the first half, but were cold in the second half. The Polar Bears kept up the offensive pressure and gradually caught up with and passed the Stivers Tigers for a first round victory. The next game had Dixie squaring off with Route 35 neighbor Twin Valley South.
South came into the game 0-5. To add to their woes, they were short players due to injury and winter vacation. They dressed 7 varsity players, 2 of which were pulled up from the Junior Varsity squad. This team has played some fair defense, but the offense has been lacking. Dixie has had some early success and may have been a little over confident going into the game. South freshman Ashley Groff provided an initial spark for the Panthers. Playing in just her second varsity game, she scored 8 first quarter points to give TVS a 14-7 lead. It was evident that Dixie wanted to wear the lean team out by throwing the press at them and run the court as much as possible on offense in the first quarter. Their half court defense was man to man, TVS also used a man to man, but would later keep Dixie off balance by mixing in different zone defenses.
In the second quarter Groff cooled down, but the South seniors took the reins and started to score. Lipps scored 6 points in this quarter while fellow senior Courtney Reed notched five points, three from the free throw line. Dixie stayed on the heels of TVS thanks in part to Megan Millikin's 11 points in this quarter, and South took a 5 point lead into the locker room. Dixie's press had generated some turnovers in the first half, but the team had problems handling the ball and many times they gave the ball right back again. Both teams had players with foul trouble. Millikin from Dixie had three, as did South's Dani Lipps. This was particularly worrisome for South who would fight fatigue and fouls in the second half.
In the second half both teams handled the ball better. There were fewer turnovers, but the foul count kept ratcheting up. South's Kim Deleranko would pick up her 4th foul in the third quarter. Lipps continued to score for South, leading the way with 8 points. Dixie doggedly stayed on the heels of South with a balanced attack, but they could only close to within four as the teams entered the last quarter.
The pace was furious in the last quarter as Dixie made their bid for the win. Greyhound Sara Kelhoffer tied the score at 39 all, then teammate Megan Millikin gave Dixie their first lead of the second half when she sank two free throws. South needed to regain momentum and again the seniors responded. On consecutive possessions Lipps sank a basket, then Reed connected from the field to give South a slim three point lead once again. Time was ticking down as there was about a minute and a half left at this point and TVS took a time out to set up their end of game stragedy. In the last minute, foul shots would become critical. Millikin calmly sunk two free throws to draw Dixie within a point. Then on their next two possessions South's DuChemin and Reed would be fouled. DuChemin sunk one of her two throws to extend South's lead to two, and Reed calmly aced both her shots to extend the South lead to 4 with about 15 second left in the game. Dixie's Megan Millikin fouled out with seconds left in the game, but lead all scorers with 23 points. Teammate Abby Witt would sink the last basket of the game as time ran out, but the Dixie rally would fall short as South hung on for their first win of the season 50-48.
Coach Robinson was asked about the 4th quarter effort of her team, “We feel we are in pretty good shape, we condition hard for this reason. We have several kids out due to injury, vacation, so we knew we had to battle. The kids just stepped it up and played from the heart. Every single kid contributed. Even Amber [Niswonger] who came in to give players a breather. Dani Lipps stepped it up offensively. We wanted to feed Dani because we thought we had an advantage there. And the guards did it, they ran what we wanted to run. Courtney Reed stepped up big, she's been a little up and down so we started Ashley [Groff]. And Ashley starts the game off for us, scoring right off the bat which got us going. I was real proud of the girls, I thought it was a real physical game, we could have gotten frustrated and let that take us out of the game. But the girls played thru it and didn't let it bother them.”
Did TVS make any defensive adjustments? I asked Coach Robinson about the outside shooting of Dixie. “We knew that they could hit from outside, but we decided not to let them score inside. They were cold shooting even against our man to man and we went with the flow of the game, going into a zone. I thought our inside players really shut their big girl down.”
Coach May was asked for her analysis of the game, “We just couldn't hit our shots, that and the turnovers. We were 17 of 27 for foul shots, which better than what we have done, but it could be better. We couldn't get our big girls the ball and we couldn't finish.”
The South boys aren't the only ones bring home a trophy for Christmas. In the championship game South defeated Northridge. “It was a different type of game” said South Coach Darcy Robinson, “It was a slower game, particularly in the last quarter when we were trying to protect a 10 point lead.” Coach Robinson was pleased with the players, “Scoring was balanced no one was in double figures, but Lipps and Voge lead scoring with 8. Kate Ervin was just released by her doctor and had 16 rebounds. But overall it was the defense - the front line really was tight on their post player Kacie Allen and kept her from scoring and the guards really kept up the pressure.” Last I asked what was the difference? The team was off to a 0-5 start and suddenly they win the tournament. “Confidence” answered Coach Robinson, “The girls believe that they can do it and are deciding to win. Early in the season their shots weren't falling, now they are hitting them and they aren't afraid to shoot.” Comments email: Chris Tilton