Story by Jim Horvath
Photos and video by Larry Bennet
It wasn't pretty, but it was still a win for the Avon Eagles.
Avon, despite committing 24 turnovers in the game, withstood a furious Bay rally in the game's final minutes to come away with a 51-45 win over the Rockets at The Launch Pad Saturday afternoon.
With the win, the Eagles remained a factor in the West Shore Conference race at 4-2 while upping their overall record to 7-5.
"We're continually working in practice on playing four good quarters all together," said Avon head coach Meghan Larrick, who saw her team's 15-point lead shrink to four with just under a minute left.
"We've been up and down throughout the season," Larrick continued. "We need to continue to get better as a passing team. Our passes were pretty difficult today. We weren't executing offensively because our passes. We weren't getting set up in it.
"I know that's something we need to get back into the gym and work on. We need to compose ourselves during tough situations like the end of this game," she added.
Bay, now 5-6 overall and 1-4 in the WSC, trailed by 12 points, 41-29, heading into the fourth quarter. That deficit was bumped up to 14 when senior guard Mackenzie Meckes scored for Avon to open the final eight minutes of play.
Bay countered with a 3-pointer out of the right corner from sophomore Rachel Lenarth. Avon, however, got back-to-back buckets by Sarah Sprecher and Allie Bjorn to push the Eagle lead out to 15 at 47-34 with just under five minutes remaining.
The Rockets then turned up the intensity on their full-court press. They forced seven Eagle turnovers in the quarter and got back to within six points, 47-41, on a 3-pointer from sophomore guard Maddie Holmes.
Larrick called a timeout with 1:44 left, but her Eagles missed the front end of a one-and-one with 1:08 to go. After another timeout, Bay pushed the ball up the floor and got a driving bank shot from Holmes to make it 47-43 with just under 50 seconds left on the clock.
But Avon would hold on, thanks to the free throw shooting of Catie Kelly. The junior point guard went to the line twice in the final 35 seconds and went four-for-four to offset a rebound for two from Bay's Melanie Kukura.
"We let ourselves get into a big hole, and it was hard to battle back," admitted Bay head coach Brian Hill, whose team scored just eight points in the third quarter.
"I think we were down 12 points going into the fourth quarter," Hill said. "We cut it down to as close as we possibly could. They made some big free throws down the stretch, but they also gave us our chances.
"We come away from this feeling we at least can play with the big teams. Avon's a good team, and they definitely played well today," he said.
As it turned out, Avon got the job done with a dominating third quarter. The Eagles scored 15 points, pulled down 15 rebounds and used a 11-0 run to break the game open. Five different players scored for the Eagles in that frame, with Bjorn leading the way with five points.
For the game, the junior post player led the Eagles with 15 points. Kelly followed with 11 points, Meckes with 10, Sprecher with eight and freshman Amari Davidson with seven.
"That's always been our strength," said Larrick of her team's balanced attack.
"Usually, we don't have a go-to person. We run our offenses through everybody. We have different plays geared for our posts, different plays geared for our point guard. We try to work the ball around and execute by getting teams back on their heels.
"We always try to execute with somebody different. That's been a strength of ours," she said.
On the boards, Bjorn had nine rebounds, while Sprecher and senior Sierra Davidson each had eight. Lauren Heldt had 10 rebounds for the Rockets, with junior post Nora Ziebarth grabbing six.
While his Rockets were able to hold their own with Avon on the glass, Hill said he was disappointed with the lack of offensive production on second chance shots.
"I think we hurt ourselves on the boards, because the offensive boards we do get, we don't finish," said Bay head coach Brian Hill, whose team was outrebounded 37-32.
"We were 16 of 64 shooting tonight," Hill said. "I would say a majority of our shots were right around the rim. We put up a lot of shots, but we've got to start being able to finish them.
"And having it be such a close game, those were crucial misses," he added.
Holmes led all scorers with 17 points, while Ziebarth added 11. Next up in the scoring column for the Rockets was Kukura, who had five points off the bench.
"We get 18 to 20 offensive boards per game, but we're really struggling to go strong to the hole and finish," Hill said. "It's something we're going to continue to work on everyday in practice and try to get better.
"Our girls work extremely hard, especially on defense," Hill said. "Our girls have done a great job of getting deflections and forcing kids to play way faster than they want to play. Now it's a matter of trying to convert on the offensive end.
"That's going to be something that will tell us whether we're going to be one of the good teams, or if we're going to stay where we're at right now," he added.
Larrick, who said her team has had its fair share of obstacles to overcome this season, felt her team would continue to learn from its mistakes.
"We've had a difficult schedule with a lot of injury and sickness," Larrick said. "But the kids have continued to fight and preserver.
"We haven't had our full lineup one game this year, and that's something we've been battling everyday. We're hopping we can get everybody to come together by the end of the season.
"We live by the quote 'What does not kill us makes us stronger.' We're hoping to get better and better so we can continue to take steps in the right direction," she added.
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Click on the cameras below to view Larry's photos and video highlights from this game: