By Mark Carpenter
It was quite an emotional night last Thursday evening at West Union High School for Coach Jason Claytor and his Lady Dragons as they played host to the Eastern Lady Warriors in Southern Hills Athletic Conference action. In the words of Claytor, “It seemed like West Union hadn’t beaten Eastern since Roosevelt was President,” but that all changed on Thursday as the Lady Dragons took their fans on a roller coaster ride, falling behind early, building a lead, blowing that lead, and then rallying late for an exciting 55-52 win, moving them to 3-8 on the year.
On top of getting a win over Eastern, it was the first SHAC win for the Lady Dragons since Dec. 2011 as the program continues to take steps in a positive direction in the win column. West Union got a big offensive game from Natasha Barr, who is in the middle of a hot streak. Barr scored 23 points on Thursday and teammate Taylor Martin tossed in 17.
“Saying that this is a big win for us is an understatement,” said Claytor. “It is certainly nice to get that SHAC monkey off our backs.”
After the JV game went the way of the Dragons (38-34), the varsity teams took the floor and it was the Lady Warriors jumping out early to an 8-0 lead after a pair of three-pointers from sophomore Delaney Walsh. The stunned Lady Dragons finally got on the board at the 4:30 mark with a Martin basket and after another bucket by Walsh, the visitors were blanked for over three minutes.
In the meantime, West Union got their bearings and fired off a 13-0 run, begin by a CeCe Howard bucket.Barr scored eight in a row, including two treys and another Howard score plus a Kristen Grooms free throw put the home side up 15-10. Eastern ended the first period with a three-pointer from Molly Prine, leaving the two teams separated by just a single basket.
As the second quarter began, the Lady Dragons extended their lead on a pair of Mikayla Akers free throws and a bucket by Barr. After Eastern closed back within two, the home team scored five in succession and led 24-17 with 4:08 to go in the first half. Back came the resilient Eastern squad to score six straight of their own, before a pair from the stripe by Martin gave West Union some breathing room. Martin came back to hit one of two from the line with just 23 seconds left in the half and that sent the Lady Dragons to the intermission with a 27-25 advantage.
“Free throw shooting was big for us tonight,” said Coach Claytor. We had been struggling from the line all season but tonight we went 18 for 25 and it was some big free throws in the final seconds by Mikayla Akers that sealed the deal.”
West Union came out of the halftime break and made an immediate statement as Martin scored on the first possession, followed by baskets from Barr and Marci Schneider and they home team had its biggest lead at 33-25. A three-pointer from Barr at the 3:50 mark pushed that lead up to 37-27 as an enthusiastic home crowd cheered on their girls.
An old-fashioned three-point play by Martin and an Akers steal and layup put West Union in front 42-29 and two more Grooms free throws brought the third quarter to a close with the Lady Dragons with a seemingly comfortable 44-30 lead.
Young teams like West Union that are still learning how to get that killer instinct sometimes “give up the ghost” and as the final period began, it was the young Lady Warriors squad that turned in a 10-0 run as some poor shot selection by the home team allowed their guests to close to within 46-42 with 4:15 to play.
The Eastern surge continued and when Walsh completed a three-point lay and Kyndal Sowers hit a free throw, the Lady Warriors had come all the way back to regain the lead at 48-47. That lead lasted about 18 seconds as Barr hit her fourth three of the night in five tries to give the lead back to the Lady Dragons. A put back by Martin gave West Union a 52-48 advantage but Eastern answered with a Prine basket and a free throw from Regan Inlow to make it 52-51 with time winding down.
Barr was fouled with 10.9 seconds left and hit the second of two free throws and then Walsh was fouled for Eastern and also hit one of two to make it 53-52. When Walsh missed the second, Akers grabbed the rebound and was immediately fouled. The West Union sophomore calmly marched to the other end and sank both shots with just 1.7 ticks remaining. A long desperation pass by Eastern was intercepted by Howard and it was time for the Lady Dragons and their fans to celebrate a 55-52 win.
“We got a little sloppy there in the fourth quarter which let them catch up,” said Claytor. “But I was very proud of our girls for bouncing back and roughing out those final two minutes. It would have been just as easy to give up at that point after losing a 14 point lead.”
As one or the other have done most of the season, the dynamic duo of Barr and Martin led the Lady Dragons in scoring, combining for 40 of the 55 West Union points, Barr getting 23 and Martin adding 17. Martin also added 8 rebounds to her game totals. CeCe Howard ans Jessica Boldman also made big contributions on the boards, hauling in 8 rebounds apiece.
“Offensively, we got real nice games from Natasha and Taylor,” said Coach Claytor. I think this was the first time all season that we have gotten them both going on the same night.”
For Eastern, it was Delaney Walsh leading the way with 14 points, with Molly Prine adding 10.
Unfortunately for the Lady Dragons, the momentum didn’t carry over into a Saturday night contest at Portsmouth Notre Dame, as West Union fell on the road 81-66.
“I don’t know if playing a Saturday game with no JV game had an effect or if it was the weather, but we just didn’t come out ready to play,” said Claytor.
The Lady Dragons allowed 29 points in the first quarter and were down 41-20 at the half. The visitors cut the lead to 10 late in the fourth quarter, but ran out of time with a big hole to crawl out of.
“It was a rather unmotivated effort on our part and that falls on me,” added Claytor. “I have to have them ready to play every night. This game is a set back, but we will bounce back. We have a couple of big weeks ahead.”
In the Notre Dame loss, it was again Natasha Barr staying on her hot streak, pouring in 24 points and hauling in 8 rebounds in a near double double performance. Taylor Martin was again right on Barr’s heels, scoring 18 and grabbing 7 boards. Marci Schneider and Kristen Grooms each scored 8 for the Lady Dragons.
West Union, now 3-9, was scheduled to head east again on Monday night for a match up with the Green Lady Bobcats.It’s back home tonight to battle Portsmouth West in another non-conference affair, and then the week concludes with a trip to Whiteoak tomorrow night.
Mark Carpenter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @adamscosports.