by Tim Miller
During the preseason, head coach Kari Hoffman said she expected her Cedarville Lady Jackets to struggle at times defensively and to possibly lose tight matchups early in the season. While suffering mentally incrementally during their home opener, Cedarville was able to edge Christian Brothers 76-71 on Saturday evening in the first close game of the Lady Jackets’ young season.
Senior guard Abby Wolford played like a true conference player of the year candidate with 25 points on 6-11 shooting from behind the arc. Wolford also grabbed five rebounds.
Both Wolford and Hoffman said they were were disappointed in their young team’s efforts after the win.
“We are lucky to come with a win,” Wolford said. “Everything in our control, we struggled with. Everything has to start with defense. We have a young team and there’s mistakes that we keep making because we’re young, but if we want to be good, we have to stop making them.”
Junior guard Ashlyn Huffman and freshman guard Paige Garr each scored 11 points and pulled down eight rebounds. Sophomore guard Allison Mader and freshman guard Isabelle Bolender each added 10 points on 4-8 shooting.
The Lady Jackets (2-1) made just 53.8% of their free throws and were outrebounded by 12 in the game. Cedarville shot just 41% from the field as well.
“It was a grind,” Hoffman said after the win. “We had a lot of youth out there and made some dumb mistakes. It’s going to be a growing experience and these types of games will help us.”
Mader scored the first points on Cedarville’s floor for the 2019-20 season, as she drove from the left corner for a lay-up a minute into the game. The sophomore then hit a triple to put Cedarville up 5-0 a minute later.
Cedarville hit three 3-pointers in back-to-back-to-back possessions thanks to Garr, Wolford, and Garr again to put the Lady Jackets up 17-7 with under three minutes left in the quarter. However, Christian Brothers’ extended zone caused problems for the Lady Jackets’ offense, as the Lady Bucs were stingy in the passing lanes. A second steal by Christian Brothers led to an easy lay-up on the other end, making the score 18-12 with a minute left.
“We haven’t played against a zone, so I think with a lot of players out there that haven’t played together, it affected us,” Hoffman said. “You have to feel really comfortable with the players next to you to know where they will be and where they will cut.”
The Lady Jackets owned a 19-12 lead after one quarter. Mader scored seven points, Garr had six, and Wolford had five.
A triple by the Lady Bucs two minutes into the second brought Christian Brothers within two, but Garr answered back with a quick made shot from behind the arc to take a 22-17 lead.
Up 27-20 with 5:32 on the clock, Cedarville called a timeout as defensive rotations were nonexistent, leading to offensive rebound opportunities for the Lady Bucs. Christian Brothers had amassed three offensive rebounds to that point.
A trifecta followed by a lay-up plus a free throw brought Christian Brothers back within one, 27-26, with 4:49 remaining. While Cedarville seemed to be a step ahead to open the game, Christian Brothers remained in the fight.
After Huffman casually pulled up to drill a 3-pointer with six seconds left, Cedarville led 35-30. The Lady Jackets took that margin into the locker room. Through two quarters, Wolford had 11 points, making three of her five attempts from behind the arc, and had three rebounds. Mader added nine points on 4-8 shooting. Garr had six points and five rebounds.
The team shot below average at 39% from the field in the half, but 26 of their points were scored in the paint. The Lady Jackets also forced nine turnovers. Cedarville held Christian Brothers to a 32% field goal percentage in the first 20 minutes. The Lady Bucs won the battle on the boards, taking a +5 rebound advantage into the half.
Wolford picked up the second half by scoring per her usual self, opening the half with a deep triple and following it up with a lay-up after slashing through Christian Brothers’ defense. With 9:25 on the clock, Cedarville earned its first double-digit lead at 40-30.
The Lady Bucs went on an 8-2 run in the next three minutes to bring the score to 42-38. Cedarville began to inch away again and after Bolender netted a triple, Cedarville led 47-38.
The margin remained the same to end the quarter, as Cedarville led 55-46. Bolender had seven points in the third, while Wolford had six and Garr had five.
Although Cedarville extended its lead to 11, Christian Brothers came back to cut to the gap to four less than two minutes into the fourth. Wolford relentlessly scored with eight points in a row, but struggles on the defensive end kept Christian Brothers in the game. With 5:07 left, the Lady Jackets led 66-61 despite Wolford’s hot stretch.
With 1:58 left, Christian Brothers brought the game within a bucket after a pair of free throws, moving the score to 68-66. After getting fouled on a shot attempt with 1:32 on the clock, sophomore forward Allison Roh made a free throw to push the advantage to 69-66. After stealing the ball away, the Lady Jackets added two more points thanks to a pair of free throws by Huffman. Cedarville led 71-66 with 59.8 seconds left, and Christian Brothers called a timeout after the shots from the charity stripe.
Roh iced the game after blocking Christian Brothers’ attempt from behind the arc with 30 seconds left. After some more free throws, the Lady Jackets closed out the game.
“If we didn’t make those free throws, the game was going to be in their favor,” Hoffman said.
Wolford said that although there are positives to pull from the game, the Lady Jackets need to shift their mindset moving forward, as they played as a team that lacked urgency.
“I think we did well pulling out the win,” Wolford said. “We were confident in our ability to win the game, but we were never desperate to get a stop defensively or to get a rebound.”
The Lady Jackets will travel to the University of Indianapolis on Wednesday to take on the Greyhounds for a non-conference matchup. It will be the first meeting for the two schools since 2017, when Cedarville won at home, 77-55.
Tim Miller is a senior marketing major, editor-in-chief and sports editor for Cedars. He enjoys having a baby face, knowing too much about health insurance, and striving to perfect the optimal combination of Dwight Schrute and Ron Swanson.