Intense defense, loud crowd help Lady ‘Cats advance
The Basehor-Linwood High School girls basketball team beat Park Hill 44-42 last Thursday behind a revved-up home crowd, relentless defense and the inside dominance of Cassie Lombardino.
The victory upped the Lady Bobcats' record to 4-5 and put them in the championship of the Bobcat Invitational.
Early on it didn't look like it would be Basehor-Linwood's night, as Park Hill jumped out to a 9-0 lead. The Lady 'Cats were having trouble adjusting to the physical style of the Trojans. But then Lombardino scored a layup on a pass from Shae Sawalich, and the team got going.
The Lady Bobcats started using their speed and athleticism to hurry and harass the Trojans, pressuring the ball all over the court and creating turnovers. In the second quarter a technical foul was called on the Park Hill bench, and Michelle Chrisman made one of two free throws, tying things up at 17. Rather than mope after their poor start, the Lady 'Cats had roared back and it was a brand new game.
"I'm very pleased with the toughness these kids are showing," BLHS coach Tami Holthus said. "We just have kids that play hard. We're learning how to communicate better on defense, we still have a lot of work to do but there's never any lack of effort."
Indeed, the defense was swarming and inspired. Backed by the loud encouragement of the home crowd, the Lady 'Cats guarded the Trojans tight as soon as they caught the ball, and jumped passing lanes with seemingly limitless energy. They finished with 18 steals, six by Ashley Jeannin, four by Sawalich, three by Chrisman, two each from Lombardino and Erin Shore and one by Brooke Sanders.
After their sluggish start offensively, the Bobcats began feeding Lombardino in the post and it paid big dividends. Sanders and Chrisman had bombed six threes two days earlier against Holton and the Park Hill coaches had obviously based most of their scouting report on that game, screaming "shooter" any time either of them touched the ball.
But the attention on Sanders and Chrisman gave Lombardino room to work inside. And work she did. The sophomore seemed to score at will, going for 21 points on 10-for-15 shooting from the floor and adding a team-high eight rebounds. At one point in the second half she made six straight shots. Lombardino was hesitant to call it her best game ever, instead saying it was "one of the best" and also was quick to give credit to her teammates for setting her up.
"Everybody did a great job and we all worked together as a team," Lombardino said. "That's the biggest reason we did so well tonight."
Despite Lombardino's big night, the game was never a runaway, mainly because Park Hill's Alex Kelly wouldn't allow it to be. The junior matched Lombardino bucket for bucket, scoring 21 points herself, as the game stayed tight after the second quarter.
The lead changed hands six times in the third quarter and the home crowd got louder and louder as the tension built. On Basehor-Linwood's last possession of the quarter, Sanders broke down the defense and found Amber Jeannin for a layup just before the buzzer. The bucket put BLHS up 38-36 and caused an explosion of noise from the school's student section.
"They were awesome," Lombardino said. "It really helped that they were so loud and into it. It helped motivate us."
The motivation came at just the right time, because the game's frantic pace had left both teams looking gassed by the fourth quarter.
Kelly scored a layup to tie the game, but Lombardino answered for the Lady 'Cats. She scored two key buckets off passes from Sanders and Ashley Jeannin, both of whom finished with five assists.
Park Hill called time out, down 42-40 with 1:41 left.
Whatever play the Trojans drew up during the timeout was thwarted by Ashley Jeannin.
The sophomore stole a pass and then flung the ball to a streaking Chrisman, who made a layup. Up two possessions, the Bobcats put the clamps down defensively, forcing two jumpballs in the final minute.
Holthus and her team had plenty of reasons to be proud of their performance. It was a total team effort, with a season-high eight different players scoring.
"It is still very early in the season and it's still our goal to just get better every day," Holthus said. "I'm very excited for them because it's not every day you get to play for a championship."