Raiders heed past lessons, finish strong in winJanuary 12, 2018
By JONATHAN SAXON
HUNTINGBURG — Southridge girls basketball coach Steve Rust had his team huddled around the bench during a timeout with about 40 seconds remaining in their game against South Spencer. They were hanging on to a 38-32 lead, and, in the wake of their 41-36 overtime loss to the Northeast Dubois Jeeps on Tuesday night, Rust had one message for his team.
“Finish,” he implored. “Finish!”
When they came out of the timeout, the Raiders followed through on their coach’s plea. Every girl found her defensive assignment, they held the Rebels (2-16, 0-5) to one shot, and Southridge (3-15, 1-5) reversed the script that played out only two nights prior, securing the tight win at home.
“We had some adversity early in the game,” said Rust. “There were some turnovers and our defense wasn’t really good, they got a lead on us. A lot of times you can just quit, but they didn’t. They wanted to win this basketball game, they fought through adversity and they got themselves the W.”
The first quarter was a back-and-forth affair, ending with Southridge earning a 10-8 lead going into the second. But South Spencer came out in the second on a 7-0 run to quickly wrestle away momentum and take over the game at Huntingburg Memorial Gym. It was by the grace of a running jumper in the lane by junior guard Mady Neukam that finally broke up the run.
But the Rebels quickly answered and outscored the Raiders 15-9, ending the half with a 23-19 lead.
South Spencer spent most of the night running a 2-3 zone defense, which stifled and frustrated many early attempts at dribble penetration by Southridge. They were also aided by their outside shooting, nailing three three-pointers to keep the Raiders from packing in the lane.
“They got some shooters and good athletes,” Rust said. “We knew we had to be out on them and helping each other. We had to switch defenses several times.”
Southridge senior forward Tori Tretter, who has missed 16 games this year with injury, got things started in the third quarter by going to the free throw line after getting fouled in the post. She helped set off a 5-0 run by the Raiders to retake the lead, capped off by a jumper from junior guard Macie Marley. But the leading moment was fleeting, as a three-pointer by South Spencer senior guard Rhiana Fantini put the Rebels back on top, 26-24.
But Neukam struck again for Southridge. This time, she split two defenders and landed a teardrop shot that would have made Tony Parker blush to tie the game at 26 with 1:45 left in the third quarter. But the Rebels still had some fight left in them, marked by senior center Emily Kaufman’s efforts at the free throw line leading to a 27-26 lead for South Spencer with 5.3 seconds left to play in the third.
The game saw its last tie when Southridge senior forward Breanna Wilkey notched things up at 30 piece apiece? with her layup inside the paint. Wilkey scored her last basket of the night shortly thereafter, which proved to be pivotal, as her third and fourth points gave Southridge their final lead, 32-30, with 3:30 left to play in the game.
The Raiders closed out the game with a 6-2 run to put it away for good and earn their third win of the season. Neukam, as has become customary this season, led Southridge with 18 points on the night. Freshman guard Kennedy Nalley dropped in six, while Marley and Tretter, who played in just her third game this season, each chipped in five points in the win.
“I think (the Northeast Dubois loss) definitely motivated us a lot because that’s the second year in a row we let that game slip away,” said Neukam. “We were all really upset about that, so we knew that we had to bounce back and not blow this game too.”
Tretter said it was devastating having to sit on the sidelines injured and watch her team struggle the way they have at different points throughout their season. She often wished she could have at least been out on the court with the team to share in the battles, but she did the best she could do to encourage her team from the sidelines while she was on crutches and in a walking boot for most of the season.
“I have a big passion for basketball, even if I would have lost with them,” she said. “It just sucked watching them and being out for my senior year sucked. After I got off my crutches, I was a lot happier because I could go out there and interact with them a lot more than just sitting on the bench.”
Rust has no illusions about how difficult the season has been for his girls, but he is proud of the way his team has not packed it in and quit, even when it would be so easy to do so. He said the coaches did their best to stay positive with them and keep them encouraged. The team responded by continuing to give the coaches their total effort whenever they took to the court.
“I keep telling them after practices and games, there’s no team in the state with the number of wins that we have that works as hard as we do in practice,” he said. “It’s the players and the coaches working together and being positive.”
Rust wants to see his team work on a few things to prevent another slow start and finish their season on a positive note over these last three games. But for now he and the team will take joy in being able to close out a second close game and making things right for Tuesday night.
“The start of this wasn’t good but the finish was great,” he said. “It was awesome.”
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