Playing for the first time in a week, Centennial coach Rob Slopek admitted to there being some rust and mental lapses from his team in its opening day game of the Manchester Valley Holiday Hoops tournament against the host Mavericks on Wednesday night.
Ultimately, however, a fast start and timely defense — along with a double-double from junior forward Rasa Welsh (17 points, 15 rebounds) — proved to be enough to hold off a Manchester Valley comeback bid and earn a 41-34 victory.
Centennial (4-2) advances to face Thomas Johnson (8-0) in the championship game of the tournament on Thursday, while the Mavericks (2-5) will square off against Marriotts Ridge in the consolation game.
“It was tough, between the layoff, being on the road and this being a 7 p.m. start during break … you kind of anticipate some of those silly mistakes. But it’s in these kind of games that you have to hang your hat on the defensive end, and that’s exactly what we did,” Slopek said. “Hats off to Manchester Valley, they are an incredibly scrappy team. They made us really work for this one.”
Amelia Saunders (14 points) and Josey Klingenberg (9 points, 6 steals) led the way for the Mavericks, who were down by as many as 16 points early in the second half before rallying to get as close as five on two occasions in the fourth quarter.
Ultimately the comeback bid fell just short, with Centennial getting a made layup from Olivia Reese (8 points) to go along with made foul shots from Welsh and Jordan Dossett (7 points) in the final two minutes to hold on. But Manchester Valley coach Heather DeWees said she was pleased with the effort, particularly on defense.
“We’ve got to play four quarters of offense, because we are consistently holding people to 40 points a game … and in girls basketball you can’t play much better defensively than that. And I’ve told them, this may very well be one of the best defensive teams I’ve ever coached,” she said. “However, you have to take the defense and have it translate to offense and right now we just aren’t doing that consistently enough.”
Manchester Valley found itself in the position of playing catch-up all evening courtesy of a fast start by Centennial that included the game’s first four points. The Eagles got a layup from Welsh in the opening minute and kept the momentum going on the way to a 14-4 lead by the end of the first quarter.
That advantage pushed all the way up to 15 points, 23-8, midway through the second quarter following a pair of made foul shots by Dossett.
“Getting that lead allowed us to play several different defenses and throw a lot of different looks at them to try and keep them off balance,” Slopek said. “And again, in terms of coming off that layoff, scoring a little bit early allowed us to settle in and just relax a little bit.”
As would be a theme all evening, though, the Mavericks never stopped fighting back.
Manchester Valley closed the half on a 10-2 spurt to cut its deficit to 25-18 going into intermission. Then, after seeing Centennial extend its lead back out to 35-19 in the third quarter, the Mavericks answered with a 12-1 run to make it a two-possession game coming down the stretch.
Klingenberg was the engine behind the comeback efforts, grabbing five offensive rebounds and poking countless balls away at the top of the key on defense.
She scored seven of her points during the final 12 minutes.
While the energy and second-half push didn’t yield a win on the scoreboard, DeWees hopes her team stays positive moving forward with another test coming against Marriotts Ridge on Thursday.
“We are in a real pivotal place right now, where we could start getting frustrated, upset and start point fingers. But we don’t want to do that,” she said. “Win or lose, we want to remain positive and it’s important to realize that we have a lot of different players playing new positions. That’s a huge adjustment … and the hope is that we can learn lessons through these bumps and bruises to continue improving.”
On the other side, Slopek said his team will need to clean up some of the mistakes it made against pressure defense going into a game against undefeated Thomas Johnson.
“We have to be better up top with the ball and that was probably our biggest weakness tonight. We gave up some easy baskets because of turnovers and they’ve got some athletes tomorrow that are going to challenge us,” Slopek said. “We have some areas that I think we can take advantage of, playing to our strengths, but in order to do that we have to take care of the basketball.”
Centennial 41, Manchester Valley 34
C (3-2): Welsh 17, Reese 8, Dossett 7, Molz 4, Anderson 3, Urquiaga 2.
MV (2-4): Saunders 14, Klingenberg 9, Breeding 5, Flater 2, Johnson 2, Boswell 2.
Half: 25-18 C.
Thomas Johnson 41, Marriotts Ridge 39
In the Manchester Valley holiday hoops tournament, Marriotts Ridge was ahead for the majority of the first three quarters before Thomas Johnson put together a 10-0 run between the end of the third quarter and beginning of the fourth to take a lead it never lost the rest of the way.
Daysha Reid (14 points) and Simone Walmsley (12) each finished in double figures scoring for the undefeated Patriots (8-0), while Brianna Forbes was right behind them with nine points.
Junior forward Emma Miller led the way for the Mavericks with 11 points and Marriotts Ridge coach Sarah Miller said that her team showed a lot even in defeat.
“Overall, I’m very happy with how the girls played. They went super hard and our defense, like it usually is, was tough — getting into people and making them work,” Sarah Miller said. “Now we have to turn our focus to finishing games and making sure that we are executing down the stretch.”
Thomas Johnson advances to the championship contest of the tournament on Thursday at 7 p.m. against Centennial. Marriotts Ridge will play in the consolation game Thursday at 3 p.m. against host Manchester Valley.
TJ (8-0): Reid 14, Walmsley 12, Forbes 9, Jones 6.
MR (4-3): Miller 11, Lee 9, Noll 6, Kohler 6, Bryan 5, Conroy 2.
Half: 18-12 MR.
Reach Brent Kennedy at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on twitter @BKBSunSports