There wasn’t a single player on the court inside Joe Galloway Gymnasium Friday night that was even born the last time either of the two participating schools won a region tournament basketball game.
For the host Lookout Valley girls the drought was a mere 19 years, a pill somewhat easier to swallow with the memory of the state run the 1999-2000 made in that magical 30-win season.
For the Sunbright Lady Tigers one had to dust off 22 years worth of record books to find a region win, and the wasteland between then and the time Sunbright coach Rusty Yaden took over two years ago was pretty much barren.
“Anyone who knows anything about the history of this program knows there really hasn’t been much a tradition, but it’s a testament to this senior class the change which has been made.
When I came here it wasn’t about winning games as much as it was about changing an entire culture, and we had to do that first. Not everyone bought into it, but these girls who are seniors now did, and it shows,” Yaden said.
The seeds of Yaden’s first year finally blossomed last night as the visiting Lady Tigers used a deft inside-out attack, a swarming zone defense, and their superior depth to finally succumb the Lady Jackets in the second half in cruising to a 52-34 victory in the opening round of the Region 2A tournament.
“For us, this one has been our hurdle trying to get past it. We were really hungry tonight to get this one out of the way, and it’s finally a good feeling to say we won a region game,” said Sunbright senior post Makenna Brown.
Sunbright (27-7) will move into the region semifinals where it will play a Midway team which has beaten once and lost to twice on the season for a berth in the finals and an automatic sectional qualifier.
“We won the district last year with 25 wins, but lost our first region game, and these girls lost the year before at this stage before I got here, so yeah, it has been a hurdle. But the one thing you can say to best describe this team is it is resilient. I don’t think we have a single girl miss a practice or a workout since we lost last year, and we have won a lot of games this year, but we always seem to do it the hard way by falling behind. Again, though, they are resilient,” Yaden added.
Lookout Valley (15-10) came out of the gate on fire, taking an early 8-3 lead, but a 9-0 Sunbright lead led to an 18-13 first quarter lead. The Lady Tigers hit a trio of 3s in the quarter and had six for the game, but the Lady Jackets played them toe-to-toe through the first half despite having to rely on a six-girl rotation. In the end, though, the depth caught up to them.
Sunbright went on a 14-2 run to open the second half and Lookout Valley managed to make just four field goals total in the final half, finally failing to answer the Lady Tigers’ runs.
“I think the depth was the biggest thing. There were a couple of timeouts I called just to get the girls some rest, but in the third quarter we just had trouble getting many good looks against that zone of theirs, and they hit some shots, and we just couldn’t answer. By the time the fourth period rolled around, they went into that stall game and it wore us out chasing them around,” said Lookout Valley coach Kristen Clounch.
Rainey Barber did her best to provide offense for the Lady Jackets, finishing with 15 points to lead all scorers, but Lookout Valley missed 15 of its 19 second-half shots and wound up turning the ball over 20 times for the game.
“I’m really proud of the girls’ effort. We gave it all we had, but the depth and their pace of play were too much. I wish them the best of luck,” added Clounch.
Sunbright got points from seven different players and all of them shot the ball with a sense of ease reflective of a team that felt comfortable despite being on the road and in unfamiliar territory.
“We talked about it some coming into the game, but didn’t dwell on the fact this was a big hurdle for us. We just wanted to play our style of game and I thought we did. We had a really nice run in that third quarter and they just weren’t able to answer it, and once we got to the final quarter I felt like our experience took over,” added Yaden, complimenting his four senior starters again.
Hannah Shannon and Olivia Northrup each added double figures to go along with Brown’s team-high 13 points. Shannon finished with 11 and Northrup added 12. The Lady Jackets got a nice game from Alex Spence and Jalisa Sanders and Princess Simmons had seven points as well.
SUNBRIGHT 18 9 16 9 – 52
LOOKOUT VALLEY 13 8 6 7 – 34
SUNBRIGHT (52) –
A.Northrup, Nitzschke, Olivia Northrup 12, England 2, L.Brown, Hannah Shannon 11, Trent 2, Cox 7, Smith, Makenna Brown 13, Shelton, Griffith 3.
LOOKOUT VALLEY (34) –
P.Simmons 7, Millraney, Rainey Barber 15, Sanders 6, A.Simmons, J.Reed, Morton, Spence 6, Melton A.Reed.
Sunbright 6 (O.Northrup 2, Shannon 2, M.Brown, Griffith); Lookout Valley 5 (Sanders 2, Spence 2, Barber)
(Contact James Beach via email at email@example.com or Twitter @beachnut1134)
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