The first half went about as expected, but the second half told a different story.
The Port Huron Northern girls basketball team hosted Yale in its season opener Wednesday night. As typical “first-game jitters” plagued both teams with fouls and missed shots, the Bulldogs held a narrow 13-12 lead by halftime, and 12 of the total points came from the charity stripe.
But the jitters seemed to stay in the locker room after the half as both offenses found momentum – and both were led by underclassmen.
Freshman Sadie Dykstra scored in the first 10 seconds, putting Yale ahead 15-12, but Northern sophomore Kate Nichols answered with a 3-pointer to tie it. The race was on.
Yale sophomore Alyssa Barr had back-to-back buckets to propel her team to a 21-16, but a pair of threes from freshmen Pearl Porrett and Jadelynn Freeman put the Huskies back on top at 26-23 as the third quarter drew to a close.
A 10-point swing favored Northern, who led 28-23 with a minute to go, but Yale senior Abbi Dykstra kept her team in the game with a three of her own as five seconds remained.
“I was excited when we got [Yale] on the schedule because I knew it was going to be a good test for us, especially at the start,” Huskies first-year head coach Ryan Rossi said. “It didn’t go our way at the end, but it was a fun game and we’ve just got to get through that.”
The Bulldogs would go on to win 41-37, thanks to a 3-pointer from senior Gracie McCormick that gave them a 38-35 edge with 1:25 left on the clock.
“I think in the first half they were forcing shots…They became more and more relaxed and flowed into their offense [in the second],” Yale head coach Bryan Goulding said. “I liked the way they hung in there and battled right to the end…On the road that can be tough sometimes and you don’t recover from that, but they held their own, stuck in there, and fought all the way through.”
Barr led the Bulldogs with 15 points on the night, and Sadie Dykstra added 11, while Northern was led by Freeman (12) and sophomore Shannon Fealko (six).
“At the beginning, I felt very nervous. I’ve played with a travel team, but I feel like it’s different when I’m in school ball,” Sadie Dykstra said of her high school debut. “I have a lot more people that I know watching me. But I was really excited to play with my sister and all my friends on the team.”
“It felt good. It was really fun to play with Sadie and get back to playing with the team,” Barr said. “We work really well together.”
While Yale may have had an advantage in terms of experience and chemistry, as Northern started four sophomores and a freshman, Rossi said his team won’t be using its youth as an excuse this season.
“We had very few turnovers. I never felt like we were chucking the ball around the court. We had a few at the end when we were trying to force a pass to the post, but for the most part, they played a clean game,” he said. “They’re experienced. Those five sophomores played a lot last year in the MAC-Red and they got a lot of experience.”
And even Freeman, who might not have the varsity experience like her teammates, has played plenty of travel ball.
“It was a little nerve-racking at first. After the second half, I was getting into my groove, but the first half was a little bumpy. I didn't make many shots, but in the second half I felt like I was improving,” Freeman said. “I think [threes] definitely will [be a strength this season]. Not many threes fell for us like typically, so I think Friday will be different. Friday we’ll hit our threes.”
“Getting the first-game jitters out of the way helps us ease into the season and will help make the other games easier,” Northern sophomore Charlotte Eastman said. “With how we performed tonight all together with only having two weeks of practice, it made us feel like we can go far.”
Northern will play Marysville Friday night on the road, while Yale will play next Tuesday, Dec. 6, against Harbor Beach.
“I think we are going to be overlooked, especially with our record last year, but I think that’s where we’re going to prove them wrong,” sophomore Kate Nichols added. “They’re not going to expect that much from us…I think we’re really going to play hard and put good competition up.”
For in-game updates and other news, follow Calli on Twitter @ newberry_calli
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