November 13, 2019The Crawford County Lady Pack girls' basketball team began its season with a tough opponent as the Lady Patriots of Heritage Hills ventured into Ron Ferguson Gymnasium for a Thursday night opener.
For three quarters, the Lady Pack had things well in hand, but problems in the final quarter nearly proved costly as Crawford County held on to win by a nose, 52-49.
Crawford County's Treasure Nickelson drives in for two of her 23 points as Heritage Hill's Avery Neff (5) defends in the third quarter. Crawford County held off a late charge by the Lady Patriots for a 52-49 win in its season opener. Photo By Wade Bell
"They're a good team," said Crawford County coach Chris Broughton of Heritage Hills. "They're not going to go away. They've got good players. We missed a lot of free throws down the stretch. We missed like seven in a row at one point, but I'm really proud of how we fought the whole game. We were up 13 on them, and I have so much respect for (Coach) Kim (Brown) and her team."
The two teams traded the lead in the opening minutes, then Heritage Hills' Kylee Appman drilled a 3-pointer and NCAA Division I-recruit Rebekah Gordon later scored inside for a 9-5 Heritage Hills advantage. Gabi Gaines got two of those back for the Lady Pack, but the Lady Patriots finished out the quarter with a 6-2 burst for a 15-9 edge after one quarter of play.
"They won 17 games last year and had a lot of players back," Broughton said. "(Gordon) is a college basketball player."
After a dry start to the second quarter with missed shots and turnovers, Nevah Barnett scored to put Heritage Hills up by eight, 17-9. Crawford County then scored the next six points, closing the gap to two. Hadley Lytton put in two Heritage Hills free throws, but Crawford County countered with an 8-0 run to overtake Heritage Hills for a 23-19 lead at halftime.
"We knew (Gordon) was going to have the ball around the perimeter some," Broughton said. "She would look to drive or try to create, and I thought we did, for the most part, an excellent job (defending) there."
Gordon drilled a triple early in the third before Treasure Nickelson negated that with a full house of three deuces and a pair of freebies. At the end of the period, however, Gordon was hit with her fourth foul and Nickelson sank both free throws for a 33-26 Crawford County advantage with one quarter remaining.
"There was one possession in the second half where they got the ball into the post and she spun to the baseline, and we talked to Gabi about going and doubling when she had it," Broughton said. "Gabi went and doubled and she turned it over, and that's exactly what we talked about."
Broughton said he knew it would be tough to stop Gordon, but the objective was to contain.
"We did a good job of bothering their other guards," he said. "(Hadley Lytton) and (Avery Neff), their two better players, only had four points each. We did an excellent job of really bothering them. I'm just super proud of the kids."
Crawford County then showed a weak spot in the fourth quarter, and that was at the charity stripe. Gaines pushed the Lady Pack lead back to double-digits converting on a Heritage Hills turnover and missed shot. Following a free throw by Gordon, Brooke Elliott and Autumn Schigur scored to give Crawford County a 40-27 lead.
The Lady Patriots began to fight back and gain a little more momentum as Crawford County misfired. Barnett drilled a 3-pointer, pulling the Hills deficit back to nine. Brooke Elliott and Sarah Stutzman countered with a 6-2 burst, Elliott hitting four straight from the charity stripe.
Gaines and Nickelson then missed seven free throws in a row as the Lady Patriots again closed in, pushing the game back to five, 50-45, with several Gordon freebies. Nickelson finally got a free throw to go down. Gordon got two more shots to fall around another Nickelson single, but it wasn't enough as the Lady Pack got the 52-49 win.
"We knew we were going to have to play really well to beat them," Broughton said. "I thought we played well. We've talked to our kids a lot that, if one or two people don't show up and play, we're OK ... I thought we got contributions from seven players. If everybody shows up to play, we're going to be a good basketball team, and I thought everybody showed up to play tonight."
Nickelson led the Lady Pack with 23 points. Crawford County was 27 of 44 (61%) from the field and 17 of 32 from the free-throw line. The Lady Pack finished with 19 turnovers. Brooke Elliott had just six points, but her four free throws came at a critical time when the Lady Patriots were marching back into the game.
"She's our free-throw queen," Broughton said of the senior. "She won a little competition and has got a cape and a crown in her locker right now. That's what she's got to do. That's what seniors do, step up and make big free throws. What we probably need to do is get her the ball more down the stretch. But, credit to them, they took her away."
Gordon led Heritage Hills with 21 points, with 14 of those in the fourth quarter. The Lady Patriots hit 15 of 36 on field goals (42%) and 11 of 15 on free throws. Heritage Hills finished with 22 turnovers, many of those caused by Gaines' defense.
"There's nobody that plays harder," Broughton said of Gaines. "I know Gabi's leaving here tonight disappointed; she missed a lot of free throws. But, the best win you can have is one you can learn from. We can shoot more free throws in practice if that's what we need to work on. She affects the game in so many ways that maybe don't show up on the stat sheet. Their point guard, for example, Gabi bothered her all night. That makes a difference."
Broughton said the win was a good one but the Lady Pack have some serious competition in their first six games of the season. On Saturday, the Lady Pack lost a close one, 47-44, at Eastern (Pekin). Eastern knocked Crawford County out of the sectional tournament last season in the championship game before a packed house.
"The way we finished last year, we won 19 in a row then we got beat in the sectional championship," he said. "I wanted us to get some of these early if we could. We're playing really tough teams. We've got to play at Pekin, at Salem, at North Harrison early here and I knew, if we could get one or two of these, it was going to give us so much confidence. Autumn Schigur made some shots tonight. We're finally getting her to shoot the ball. Treasure driving and being aggressive, (they're) filling out your new roles.
"So, we can have confidence in filling out our new roles," said Broughton. "That's what I've been asking you to do to be successful against a really good team. So, we've got to continue to do that. And fix the free throws. I told Brian Ruble keeping the clock at the end, 'Man I feel like there should be 10 seconds left and there was like two minutes to go.' But, credit to them. They're a good team and they're going to fight back, and now we've got to get the free throw thing fixed."
Heritage Hills 15 4 7 23 49
Crawford County 9 14 10 19 - 52
Heritage Hills (1-1) Begle 2, Neff 4, Quinn 2, Barnett 8, Gordon 21, Lytton 4, Appman 8.
Crawford County (1-0) Schigur 7, Stutzman 2, Gaine 7, Elliott 6, Nickelson 23, Fraime 7.
3-point goals Heritage Hills 4 (Gordon 2, Appman 2).