MOUNT VERNON — The end result wasn’t exactly what coach Doug Savage had hoped for, but the effort his team gave was.
The Mount Vernon High School girls basketball team opened the 2009-10 season at home on Tuesday night, falling to the Newark Wildcats, 59-52. While it is a loss, the Yellow Jackets showed some resolve rallying within three in the third quarter after being down by 17 points.
“Early they were able to get the ball inside on us quite a bit and get some offensive rebounds,” said Savage. “Their big girls were hurting us pretty bad. In the second quarter, we started to speed the game up a little bit and cut a 16-point lead down to three. We just got down too many points at the beginning. I thought our effort was outstanding. It was a great effort; we played hard all the way through. You can tell we’ve got some young people in there, and they will have to get better on the fly.”
The Jackets dug themselves into an early hole, scoring only five points in the first five minutes. Meanwhile, Newark used its height advantage to put together a 17-point first quarter. A 3-pointer by Macie Malone pulled Mount Vernon within seven, 15-8, with 22 seconds to go, but a late jumper by Reed Huffman gave the Wildcats the 17-8 lead after one.
Tori Flemming scored off a pass from Niki DiGuilio to open the second quarter for Mount Vernon, but Newark answered with a 12-2 run to take a solid 29-12 lead with 3:38 to go. The teams then traded points over the next two minutes, but a layup by Tanandra Spivey doubled up the Jackets, 32-16, with 1:40 left in the half. The Jackets finally began to kick it in gear in the final minutes, scoring eight unanswered points to make it an eight-point game at the break.
“It seemed like everything they shot was going in (during the first quarter),” Savage said of Newark. “We went to a zone for a little bit in the second quarter, and that kind of made them miss, but they were getting putbacks, so we reverted back to our full-court pressure stuff. That’s really what brought us back. It didn’t seem like their guards liked to handle the ball too well against that. They got sloppy and we were able to get a little intensity and aggressiveness back. It seemed like the full-court pressure got some of that back for us.”
Savage stuck with what was working in the second half and the result had the Jackets pulling themselves back into the game. Mount Vernon went on an 8-2 spurt early in the third quarter to make it a four-point game, 36-32. DiGuilio scored six of those points and sparked the Jackets, who continued to battle. Chelsea Steen and Malone traded 3s to keep the lead at four, and after Steen hit a pair of free throws, DiGuilio laid a shot in to make it 41-37 with 2:54 left.
It seemed like Mount Vernon was poised to overtake the Wildcats when post Courtney Burke went down hard on the offensive end of the floor twenty seconds later. Burke was still for a few moments and was helped off the court, favoring her right knee. She did not return to the game. Her absence left the Jackets with matchup problems, which showed down the stretch.
“That hurt us quite a bit because Courtney is athletic and she was able to compete with their bigger girls,” said Savage. “She was able to score a few points and battle on the boards. Hopefully, it is nothing serious. When she went down, I was concerned that it might be, but she is moving around like it’s not a torn ACL or anything like that. It just slowed our momentum down because she was making some athletic plays on both ends of the court.”
Karina Shackle hit a free throw to make it a three-point game when play resumed, but Spivey answered with two shots of her own to put Newark ahead, 43-38, after three.
“I felt good about the momentum being our favor at that time,” said Savage. “But sometimes you tend to get going a little too fast. Instead of chipping away at it little by little, you go after it all at once, and that’s what happened to us. Give Newark credit; they took care of the basketball in the fourth quarter, and I thought their half-court trap took us out of our rhythm.”
Newark turned to its post players in the fourth quarter, and went on an 11-5 run to pull ahead by 11. Spivey, who finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds, had five points in the first four minutes of the quarter. DiGuilio tried to keep the Jackets in the game, scoring nine points down the stretch, but Newark took home the 59-52 victory.
DiGuilio led Mount Vernon with 23 points, six rebounds and two assists. Keli Thompson, Burke and Malone each finished with six points. Thompson also had six rebounds and two steals, while Malone added two steals.
In reserve action, Mount Vernon found itself in a dogfight for four quarters, The Jackets held a late lead, 31-25, but watched as Newark stormed back for a 40-36 victory. Sami Rine and Alex Miglin had nine points each to lead Mount Vernon. Jordan Peppers and Taylor Strack each added eight points.
“We have a lot of sophomores and first-year players out there, and the varsity game is a little bit more intense and faster than what they are used to,” said Savage. “They are going to need to get some experience and see what it is like to be in the big time. I feel good that they will get better as we go on.”
The Jackets return to action on Friday as they open Ohio Capital Conference Capital Division play with New Albany coming to town. Junior varsity tipoff is set for 6 p.m.