When a varsity basketball game is tied with less than a minute to go, you rarely see five sophomores take the court.
The Croswell-Lexington girls basketball team, however, is a rare exception.
The Pioneers hosted Harbor Beach Monday night and quickly took an 11-3 lead. Their offense was flowing and their defense was tenacious, holding the Pirates scoreless through the first five minutes. By halftime, they led 19-8.
“It was great. We worked really hard in the first half, we came out really strong,” sophomore MacKenzy Dennison said. “I think we got a little cocky coming into the second half though. We had a big lead and then we let it slip, but I think in the end with our teamwork, we finally pulled together and it was a lucky win.”
Harbor Beach changed its tempo coming out of the locker room and went on to score a pair of quick baskets, eventually closing the deficit to 22-20 by the end of the third quarter. Junior Mariah Jahn then tied the game at 22 from the charity stripe to start the fourth, pressuring the young Cros-Lex team.
Dennison responded with a two-handed interception returned for a layup, sparking new life into the Cros-Lex offense. Fellow sophomore Savannah Krampits scored next, extending the Pioneers’ lead 26-22 with 5:29 left on the clock.
“I think they composed themselves well. We stress supporting your team and working hard, and I think that’s what they did,” head coach Katelyn Noll said. “It seemed like nobody was really worried about stats, they just wanted to win the game, and that’s what we ask.”
Jahn, who had six points in the fourth quarter alone for the Pirates, put her team back within two with 5:06 to go. By this time, Cros-Lex sophomore Ava Oleski, who hadn’t played the first three quarters, took to the court. She answered on the other end with a rebound put back for two. It was now 28-24 with 4:56 remaining.
“I just knew I had to get the ball, so I figured I’m just going to jump in the air and it was there,” Oleski said.
In less than eight minutes, Oleski managed six rebounds and three points, including a free throw to tie the game at 29 with 1:35 on the clock.
“She played four quarters of JV tonight. We see the potential in her. She had her freshman year off so it’s about just building that confidence up in her,” Noll said. “She really pulled it off tonight. We stress rebounding a lot and rebounding was kind of what lost us earlier in that game, but when we put her out there, she dominated and helped us win. It was awesome to see that.”
With five sophomores on the court – Oleski, Dennison, Krampits, Emma Noll, and Melody Persig – Cros-Lex managed to keep the Pirates at bay with a full-court press and a patient offense. Dennison scored the final free throw with 41 seconds remaining to secure the Pioneers’ 30-29 victory.
“We have a really great team. We work hard in practice and we stay focused,” Dennison said. “We have a lot of punishments for not being focused, so I think that helped us pull it all together and stay composed at the end.”
Dennison led with 10 points and six steals, senior Aubrey Connelly added six points, and Krampits totaled five points and four rebounds.
“We’ve talked about [their youth]. Sometimes they say they feel like underdogs with so many of them being sophomores. I don’t think they play like sophomores,” Katelyn Noll said. “They’ve been playing basketball for a long time and it shows. There’s good continuity with that group.”
The Pioneers, now 2-0, will play their first game on the road this Thursday against Bad Axe (2-0), and then begin conference play on Dec. 13 against Algonac.
“I think we still have a lot of work to do. We saw a lot of good things tonight, but like we said, we can’t settle,” Katelyn Noll said. “I think if we settle we won’t keep winning basketball games.”
For in-game updates and other news, follow Calli on Twitter @ newberry_calli
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