Everything seemed to go right for the Almont girls basketball team last night – espcially in the third quarter.
“That’s the best third quarter in my experience as a coach at Almont. That’s always our Achilles heel, that third quarter,” head coach Erik Johnson said. “We come out and seem like we’re flat. If you look back at all the box scores, it’s always the third quarter when we seem to not have what we need.”
The Raiders brought everything they needed to Croswell, however, as they took on the Pioneers in the first conference game of the new year. Johnson said he didn’t know what to expect from his team after limited practice over the break, but the girls seemed to do just fine.
In the third quarter alone, they held Cros-Lex scoreless thanks to a rhythmic defense and countless steals. Couple that with a patient, well-oiled offense that put up 12 points, the Raiders soon found themselves up 29-15 with eight minutes remaining in regulation. They would go on to win 32-22.
“At halftime, we talked about how we can’t stop. We always stop at halftime and in this game we knew we couldn’t let up,” senior Kendall Roszczewski said. “So coming into the third quarter, we had high energy and we were just knocking down shots honestly.”
“That was a big focus for us,” senior Grace Koenig added. “We had been struggling coming out of halftime and picking up our energy, so that was was a good thing to see for sure.”
With a narrow 17-15 lead coming out of the locker room, Roszczewski sparked Almont’s momentum with four early points, and Koenig and junior Lydia LaCavera managed back-to-back 3-pointers to close the quarter.
In between those baskets, however, was perhaps the highlight of the game: junior Ava Panduren’s first-ever in-game free throws.
“In practice, when we’re doing double or nothing and she gets up to shoot a free throw, we’re like ‘OK, we’re running,’” Roszczewski said. “She’s never made a free throw in a game. Never.”
As a soccer standout committed to play at Michigan State University, it’s understandable why Panduren might not have time to practice her free throws. But when she stepped to the line last night, no one would have ever known. She sent both shots straight through the net, eliciting a standing ovation from the Raiders' bench.
“We were very proud of her,” Roszczewski said.
“Nobody saw that coming,” Koenig added.
Koenig led the Raiders with 16 points on the night, including two triples. Roszczewski chipped in with nine.
Sophomore Emma Noll led the Pioneers with 12 points, all from beyond the 3-point line. Fellow sophomore Melody Persig added five.
“We talked about how they need to step up and score more,” Cros-Lex head coach Katelyn Noll said. “It’s really cool to see that those sophomores are stepping up and looking for those shots.”
Katelyn Noll said it can be easy to forget her team is so young, with half of its roster made up of sophomores, but she’s confident they’ll be alright as the season progresses.
“I saw a lot of good things. The biggest thing is figuring out how to make shots. We rotated the ball around well, our guards were spotting up to shoot, our posts looked to score, it’s just the little things,” she said. “The ball just rolls out of the basket, and mentally that can be pretty tough, I get it. That’s just a hurdle we have to overcome.”
With the win, Almont improves to 3-5 overall, 1-2 in the BWAC. Cros-Lex now stands 4-4 and 1-2 in conference play. See the latest BWAC scores and standings.
"It’s a good start, a league win – our first league win of the season – and it was on the road. It’s hard to win on the road," Johnson said. "It’s just good stuff to get us going and on a roll."
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