The saying, "You're only as old as you feel," certainly would render De Soto's girls basketball team unable to drive if it were really the case.
The Wildcats struggled against Anderson County's zone Friday night, in large part because they were unable to get any consistent shooting from the perimeter.
They managed to overcome their struggles from the outside for most of the game, though, and led until there was less than three minutes to play in the third quarter.
"I thought in the first half we did okay," coach Dwight Spencer said. "Then in the second half we quit moving the ball and we'd catch it and look around instead of keeping the ball moving. We never attacked it like we wanted to."
Anderson County collapsed down hard when the Wildcats did get the ball in the middle, and when post players kicked the ball out De Soto's struggles from the perimeter became a big factor.
"We haven't shown that we're capable of consistently (shooting well from the perimeter)," Spencer said. "I think that's a lot of our youth. They've just got to keep their heads up and keep taking those shots confidently and hopefully they'll start falling."
The game got off to a little bit of a slow start, with De Soto leading 4-2 with 2:30 to play in the first quarter. Freshman Shelbi Petty then fueled a run when she connected on the only 3-pointer of the game for the Wildcats, and at the end of the first quarter they led 10-5.
A minute into the second quarter De Soto added to their lead by scoring seven unanswered points. Sophomore Kelsey Fisher scored 5 points in the run.
With the score 19-8 with 4:48 it looked as if the Wildcats were on their way to a lopsided victory, but back came the Bulldogs with eight consecutive points of their own to close gap to 23-20 at halftime. In three-point shooting alone, the Wildcats were outscored 12-3 in the first half.
"I think to have that many sophomores and freshmen out there is probably unfair to those kids, to have to jump in like that," Spencer said. "But hopefully a year or two down the line - actually, hopefully a year or even later this year - that will pay off and they'll learn from playing against this level of competition."
The shooting struggles of the first half carried over to the third quarter, but in large part because of a tough man-to-man half court defense the Wildcats were right in the ballgame. With 1:42 to go in the third, Fisher tied up an opponent, getting a jump ball and giving De Soto possession of the ball with the scored tied at 26. It was unable to capitalize, though, and after turning the ball over and allowing a score it trailed 28-26 to start the fourth quarter.
Although they would come out on the short end of things, the fourth quarter showed some signs of the De Soto girls' toughness. Anderson County's lead hung between 2 and 4 points for much of the quarter, with the Wildcats finding an answer for almost every Bulldog score. With 1:05 to play, Fisher forced a turnover and got the ball to sophomore Katie Williams who went up for a layup. There was contact but no foul whistled, keeping the Bulldog lead safe at 37-35 with 44 seconds remaining, meaning De Soto had to foul.
Anderson County, hot from the free throw line all night, put the game away.
"We got some opportunities and just couldn't quite finish them," Spencer said. "But when it came right down to it and we had to foul, they hit their free throws and that makes it tough."
The final score was 41-35 when the final horn sounded, although the game was closer than the score indicates. Williams led De Soto in scoring with 12, while Petty had seven.
"We're pretty bummed about it," sophomore Tami Crow said. "But we're okay. We'll go into the next game just ready to go."
Spencer said in the break before the next game, Jan. 4, the Wildcats will work on strengthening their defense. He also continues to look for more enthusiasm and leadership on the court.
"I'm okay with where we're at if we can make those leaps maturity-wise and everybody is willing to go ahead and do things they aren't the most comfortable with," he said.