Cat girls overcome tough stretch, scoreless quarter to edge out Baldwin
Buried in the first possession of the De Soto girls basketball team's Tuesday night showdown against Baldwin was the tone of the game.
De Soto won the tip and quickly moved the ball down court. Wildcat sophomore Katie Williams took a pass in the post and put up a quick shot, bending around a Baldwin defender.
She missed, but junior Barbara Hartz picked up the rebound and put back a point-blank shot.
She also missed. Sophomore Tami Crow grabbed the rebound and took her own crack, the ball again bounding off the rim, finally into the hands of a Bulldog.
Eight minutes later, it appeared that possession had set the tone for the game - De Soto sat in a huddle after the first quarter with exactly 0 points.
Thirty-two minutes later, however, the tone proved entirely different. Persistence ruled the day. The Wildcats roared back from an 11-point first-quarter deficit to take a fourth-quarter lead and eventually the game. Relying on pesky defense and strong offensive rebounding, the Cats knocked off Baldwin, 37-35.
"It's a testament to the kids. They've done everything I've told them," De Soto coach Dwight Spencer said. "They've focused on getting better every game and they haven't worried about anything else.
"They're playing hard - that's what they did (Tuesday.) They kept playing hard, had positive thoughts and good things started happening."
Spencer's words proved true in the microcosm of Tuesday's game, and also when set against the team's entire season.
De Soto lost seven consecutive games through December and into January before finally breaking the streak against Atchison. The Cats came out and led until the end against one-loss Louisburg, then nearly beat Spring Hill Friday, losing 38-37.
The stretch of improved play finally paid off with a win Tuesday against the Bulldogs.
"We stayed up and we didn't stop. We picked ourselves up and kept going," said Crow, who led the Cats Tuesday with 10 points. "I didn't have any doubt. We were just trying to stay up. We knew we could beat these guys."
Maybe Crow knew, but the first quarter left plenty of others with a few questions.
Baldwin's Colby Heckathorne scored the first basket of the game and Dog senior Callie Craig poured in the next nine in the first quarter for the 11-0 lead.
De Soto has struggled against full-court pressure all season, but turnovers weren't the problem. The Cats took care of the ball and waited through long possessions, but just couldn't score.
Finally Williams dropped a basket in, scoring from the low post 36 seconds into the second quarter. She added another on the ensuing possession. Freshman Shelbi Petty and Hartz both sank three-point shots and Amber Wilson found Kelsey Fisher wide open under the basket with 30 seconds remaining in the second quarter to pull De Soto within three points.
"Coach was pretty upset," Williams said of the post-first quarter huddle. "When he left, we all kept each other up. Everyone knew we still had a chance. The games from the past, where we've been down, helps us know we had a chance."
Fisher again came up big in the second half, her three-pointer - a sweet assist from a triple-teamed Hartz - sliding through for a two-point De Soto lead with 57.6 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.
De Soto was aided in making up ground in the third quarter by a pair of Crow three-balls, then first took a lead in the fourth after junior Amber Laudick put back offensive rebounds on consecutive possessions.
Fisher's swish gave the Cats the lead for good, a pair of Crow free throws helping ice the game in the waning seconds.
"That's a pretty good team," Spencer said of Baldwin. "They are pretty quick and they can shoot the heck out of the ball. To go out and get a win against a team like that is huge.
"Hopefully it will help our confidence. We'll need confidence come sub-state time."
The Cats have every opportunity to keep the momentum rolling Friday as it welcomes Ottawa for a Frontier League battle. The Cyclones, 8-8 on the season, are coming off a 71-61 Tuesday win against Metro Academy. They were sixth in January's Basehor Invitational, but downed Paola twice in the last month.
The 6:15 p.m. Friday game will coincide with De Soto's Winter Homecoming.