By Jef Rietsma
SCHOOLCRAFT – A smothering full-court press caught an overwhelmed and careless Centreville squad off guard, as the Schoolcraft girls’ varsity basketball team snagged a district title Friday.
Before a raucous home crowd in their packed gymnasium, the Eagles rolled over the Bulldogs, 44-32.
Buoyed by a fast start and a 14-3 lead after the first quarter, Schoolcraft coasted the remaining 24 minutes to seal the win and even its season record at 11-11. A much stiffer challenge awaits in Class C regional action, as the Eagles take on state-ranked Niles Brandywine. The 21-1 Bobcats host the 5:30 p.m. contest Tuesday.
Nonetheless, the Eagles have bragging rights in a district that included a win earlier in the week over White Pigeon. Centreville entered the contest with a 13-9 record and had in attendance more than 60 students who crammed into a spectator bus and were poised to celebrate the Bulldogs’ first district crown since 1998.
Schoolcraft, however, capitalized on Centreville’s miscues; the Bulldogs turned over the ball in eight of their first nine possessions.
“We played about 11 people in the first half and that depth allowed us to press a little more,” Coach Randy Small said. “That really helped.”
Small was quick to praise freshmen Kennedy Leighton and Lydia Goble, who combined for 17 points. He said the youngsters showed incredible poise in an intense situation.
Leighton, in fact, was the team’s leading scorer, with 13 points.
The Eagles were up by seven before Centreville finally got on the scoreboard with less than three minutes to play in the quarter. The 11-point cushion after the first quarter was maintained almost throughout the balance of the game, as Centreville managed to cut it to nine twice in the fourth quarter.
Just when the Bulldogs started to gain momentum, however, Schoolcraft responded immediately: Goble nailed a three-pointer early in the fourth quarter to give the Eagles their largest lead of the night, at 17, and Leighton drained a pair of free throws near the two-minute mark to snap an 8-0 run by the Bulldogs.
Small said Schoolcraft had its flaws – foul troubles and free-throw shooting, specifically. But the Eagles persevered and benefitted from a total of 23 Centreville turnovers.
He said his counterpart, Jill Peterson, did a commendable job making adjustments to counter Schoolcraft’s full-court press.
“She did a good job making adjustments Wednesday against Decatur, too, so I give her and Centreville a lot of credit,” Small said. “I think we lost our intensity a little bit, maybe we got a little complacent after a big lead, and they made us pay.”
In addition to Leighton’s 13 points, Taegan Block had 10, Wynn Stitt contributed six, Emma Herr added five, Amber Overley and Goble had four points each and Sara Wisser scored two.
Small said his squad deserves credit for coming alive in the postseason and playing with a level of intensity that proved the district title was no fluke.
“They’re playing harder, but we’re going to have our hands full against Brandywine … we all realize that,” Small said.