Coming off tough defeats at the hands of the Northfield Norse and the Bluffton Tigers, Eastbrook Head Coach Jeff Liddick knew that changes needed to be made.
Over the weekend as he prepared for the Panthers’ contest against Cowan, Liddick went through his entire roster one-by-one, establishing set roles for each player and what is to be expected from them throughout the rest of the season.
The players, after talking with Liddick, accepted these new roles, and came back to practice this week with a renewed focus and vigor.
“I had sit-down conversations with every girl on the varsity, and at practice, we saw things that were a lot better than they had been.” Liddick said. “I’m just really proud.”
On Tuesday evening, the Panthers put together an impressive performance, using strong starts in the first and third quarters, a stout offensive showing, and a sturdy defensive effort to defeat the Blackhawks 51-35.
“I saw a different team tonight,” Liddick said. “It was the team that we saw against Eastern…and then, tonight, that team showed back up. I think you can attribute that to the girls just playing within themselves, not trying to do too much, just doing what they are capable of doing and allowing the other four girls on the court to do the same. When you do that, typically, things go well for you. And that’s what happened tonight.”
Eastbrook wasted little time, racing out to a 13-2 lead in the first quarter to take the early advantage. However, the Blackhawks battled back in the second quarter. Cowan star Kaylee Kear broke Eastbrook’s zone defense with some quality looks inside as the Blackhawks outscored the Panthers 11-7 and cut their lead to 20-13 at halftime.
However, in the second half, the Panthers switched tactics, electing to play man-to-man defense for the first time all season.
The adjustment worked, as Eastbrook opened the second half on an 18-9 run and took control of the contest the rest of the way.
“After seeing it, we are probably a better man-to-man team than I thought we were,” Liddick said. “We hadn’t practiced a whole lot of man, but we told the girls to match up. Sehdah [McKim] did a great job in the third quarter on [Kear]. Rachel [Manning] did a great job on [Cowan guard Lauren Smith.] Defensively, if we can mix it up like that now, I think it’s going to cause some problems for some teams.”
Sophia Morrison continued to make her mark as one of the top freshmen basketball players in Grant County, leading the Panthers with 19 points on seven-of-10 shooting from the field. Just five games into her varsity career, Morrison has showcased ability and basketball IQ far beyond her years, and Liddick is thrilled with her development.
“She’s a freshman, but she sees the court extremely well, she sees open teammates very well, and at the same time, she doesn’t force things. She took shots in the flow of the offense,” Liddick said. ““She is far more mature basketball-wise than her grade shows.”
Lexi Binkerd found her offensive touch against the Blackhawks, scoring Eastbrook’s first three baskets and finishing with 12 points and six rebounds. Sehdah McKim collected 10 points on four-of-six shooting and five rebounds, while Johwen McKim added six points, six assists, and three steals.
“Every girl that came in tonight gave us exactly what we needed: a good, solid defensive performance,” Liddick said. “And they took care of the basketball on the offensive end. Very pleased with that.”
With an always gritty and scrappy Southwood team on the horizon, Liddick looks to keep the momentum going after a well-deserved triumph.
“I liked the way we played together tonight,” Liddick said. “Tonight, I saw great ball movement on the offensive end and I saw girls making that extra pass. If we can build on that, I think we will be a pretty tough team.
“[But] we have a long way to go. We are still nowhere near what we are capable of doing night in and night out, but the girls are being very receptive, not only to coaching but to what we expect of them as a player on the court.”