Kremmling " West Grand girls end season with heads held high
The season ended for The West Grand Mustang girls on Saturday with a 54-30 loss to the Grand Valley Cardinals, but nobody can say the Mustangs went down without a fight.
Employing a defense designed to slow down Cardinal star Kendall Babler, the Mustangs combined to hold her to 11 points, eight of which came after the contest was decided late in the fourth quarter.
West Grand’s Renea Ellison and Jordan Davidson had the task of guarding Babler one-on-one for the entire game. Along with Taylor Pesch who guarded her for a brief stretch, they held her in check for virtually the entire game.
It was a far cry from the regular season contest with Grand Valley, a game in which Babler sank seven three pointers and scored 26 points.
In that game, the Cardinals won, 70-29, handing West Grand their worst loss of the year.
The defense on Babler wasn’t the only story, however, for West Grand. Grand Valley’s Erin Vanderpool scored 17 points in the regular season contest and she was held to seven in Saturday’s contest.
“We worked on a new defense all week and the girls really responded,” coach Larry Banman said. “I am very proud of they way they worked in practice and then executed the game plan.”
Rose Hargadine and Angie O’Neill provided solid interior defense, while Jessica Elliott, Stephanie Stubbs and Brook Cecil had the difficult task of defending the perimeter on the wing.
The Mustangs surprised the Cardinals with their defense early in the game as well as with their opportunistic defense. West Grand had an 8-4 lead early and trailed by one at the quarter, 11-10.
Elliott, Stubbs, Cecil and O’Neill all scored in the first quarter as the Mustangs had their faithful fans cheering for the upset.
A four-point second quarter, however, put the Mustangs in a hole from which they couldn’t recover.
“We continued to play good defense,” Banman said, “but we had some turnovers against their pressure defense and we allowed some easy shots.”
The one player who played well for Grand Valley was Lauren Schubert, and she scored 17 of her 19 points in the second and third quarters.
She was the beneficiary of numerous good passes from Babler who, although she struggled with her shooting, was able to contribute numerous assists.
The Lady Mustangs have struggled at times with the third quarter.
That wasn’t the case on Saturday, as they matched the effort of Grand Valley. They were more aggressive than the Cardinals and, as a result, shot seven freethrows to only three for Grand Valley.
Unfortunately, only two of the seven found their mark, and Grand Valley outscored West Grand, 15-7, in the quarter.
The third quarter was highlighted by a three-pointer from Hargadine and a two-pointer by O’Neill. A senior playing in her first year for the Mustangs, O’Neill made the most of her time on the floor and registered her season-high total of six points.
In the final frame, the Mustangs again were frequent visitors to the freethrow line with 14 attempts, making seven of those attempts.
“Usually when a team shoots more free throws than the opponent, it means that team is more aggressive and working harder,” Banman said. “From the perspective of the coaching staff, that was definitely the case on Saturday. We were the hungrier team. If the team that played with more heart advanced in the playoffs, we would be playing next week.”
One indicator of aggressive defensive play is steals and the Mustangs had eight ball thefts in the game. Cecil led the way with four, while Elliott had three and Stubbs had one.
Hargadine had perhaps her best game of the season, as she led the team in points with nine, in rebounds with six and in blocked shots with four. In addition to O’Neill’s six points, Cecil added five and Jordan Davidson and Jessica Elliott chipped in with four points apiece. Stubbs registered the final two for the Mustangs.
Cecil and Davidson provided the Mustangs faithful with a highlight in the fourth quarter when Cecil passed to Davidson on a beautiful backdoor cut and Davidson scored the final basket of her high school career.
“I told the girls after the game that it was the best game they played all year,” Banman said. “They had every reason to walk out of that gym with their heads held high. I also told them that the difference is really not all that great between them and the teams that finished at the top of the league.”
Also playing in the game for West Grand were Erin Beason and Alyse Billington. Coach Banman said he has much admiration for those players who work hard in practice, knowing they will likely see little or no action in the game. “That, to me, is a very selfless attitude and it shows a dedication to the team,” he added.
The Mustangs finished the regular season 6-11 and are done for the year after losing in the first round of the district tournament.
Banman noted that he wanted to thank assistant coaches Joe Shields, Heather Bentler, Gary Beason and Kelly Farrell for their outstanding support and hard work during the season.
“They have been wonderful to work with,” he said, “and they have been very patient with me.”
Four seniors played their last game for the West Grand Lady Mustangs.
“You always feel somewhat melancholy for the seniors when the season comes to an end,” Banman said. “This team was blessed this year with four seniors who were outstanding to work with. My hat is off to Jessica Elliott, Jordan Davidson, Angie O’Neill and Stephanie Stubbs, and I wish them all of the best in their futures.”
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