In Tuesday night’s contest between two longtime rivals, the Mississinewa Indians and the Marion Giants fought a battle from start to finish.
The Indians built a double-digit advantage midway through the second quarter only to see the Giants come roaring back to make it a one-possession game late in the fourth.
However, Mississinewa was able to close the game out, recording their third win of the season in a 70-67 triumph.
“We came out really, really strong – I just feel that we got super comfortable in the second half,” Mississinewa Head Coach Laura Friday said. “We felt we were in a good spot. Kudos to [Coach Freshwater] and the Giants, they fought hard, especially in that fourth quarter to make it really, really close at the end. I’m glad our girls pulled it out.”
While the Giants easily played their best game of the season, strong performances by Mia Catey, Alayna Webb, and the Indians’ defense, made the difference.
Catey finished with a career-high 24 points, which included a pair of clutch free throws in the guts of the game, while Webb made her presence felt on both ends, scoring 20 points and wreaking havoc on the Giants’ defensively throughout the evening.
“Mia and Alayna really wanted to win this game,” Friday said. “I’m glad that they stepped up. They stepped up in a big way. We really needed every single point that they scored. But they also did the little things. They calmed everybody down when things were getting crazy, and they were talking in the huddle. That’s the stuff we need for the rest of the season.”
Mississinewa ran a full-court press throughout most of the contest, and it worked to perfection, especially in the first half. For the game, the Giants turned the ball over 39 times, 19 of which came in the first two quarters, which allowed the Indians to build their double-digit advantage.
“We want to make sure we are pressuring teams. We feel that is our best asset,” Friday said. “We knew they weren’t very comfortable with dribbling the ball, so we wanted to make sure we put extra pressure on them.”
However, despite their turnover struggles, the Giants kept playing, and behind a career-best performance from senior Olivia Aguilar, put together an encouraging performance which they can build on.
“We needed this more than anything,” Marion Head Coach Jerry Freshwater said. “The girls played hard. I’m proud of them. From the first game to the 11th game, you see the difference in where we are
at and where we need to be. That’s all we want. That’s all we want for these girls to do. They are starting to believe what they can do.”
Aguilar scored 35 points against the Indians, including 14 in Marion’s furious fourth-quarter comeback attempt, and missed just two shots, both of which came in the opening quarter. After shooting two-for-four in the first eight minutes, she finished the game 13-of-13.
“She’s a great girl,” Freshwater said. “The girls see what she does, and they follow behind her. That’s all you can ask for.”
Mississinewa opened the game on an 11-0 run, including four points from Catey and a triple from Webb, and held the Giants off the scoreboard until the 4:45 mark of the period. The Indians kept the pressure up, taking a 24-12 lead after the first quarter.
Ole Miss increased their advantage to a game-high 18 points at the 3:13 mark of the second quarter, continuing to force the Giants into mistakes and capitalizing on them. However, the Giants, slowly but surely, cut into the Indians’ lead.
Aguilar dominated the stanza, scoring 11 points, and her third triple of the game, followed by a three from freshman Talia Alsup, made it a 40-31 Indians’ lead at halftime.
Aguilar opened the third quarter with six of the Giants’ first eight points, as Marion drew to within six with 4:30 remaining in the stanza. But the Indians responded with Webb and Catey, who sparked a 16-6 run to close out the period.
The Giants, though, owned the fourth quarter, outscoring the Indians 23-9 over the course of the final eight minutes. Marion opened the stanza with a 13-4 surge to trim the lead to 65-57, and after some more clutch baskets from Aguilar, a field goal from Tori Beal in the last 30 seconds made it a one-possession game.
However, after struggling to score in the fourth quarter, Catey hit her free throws when they mattered most, knocking down two in the final 14.8 seconds to secure the Indians’ third victory of the season.
“I know it got close there at the end, but being able to close it out…is good for their experience and good for us knowing that we have leaders who can close out games,” Friday said.
Along with Catey’s and Webb’s double-digit performances, Karmen Swindall scored 11 points, while Kaiyah Jones added 10.
While the Giants failed to secure their first win of the season, Tuesday’s contest was still a major triumph. In what has been a tough season, Marion, under the tutelage of Freshwater, have come a long way by buying into the program, coming together as one unit, and most importantly, giving their best effort every single night.
They still have a way to go, but there is no question that they have taken significant steps forward.
“All of these 15 girls that are committed to this program right now have done that,” Freshwater said. “They might get upset at themselves, but they have done that.”
Along with scoring 35 points, Aguilar was a force on the boards, coming down with 11 rebounds. Alsup finished as the Giants’ second leading scorer with 14 points, while Beal added 13.