Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
BAINBRIDGE — Without talking to each other beforehand, both McClain head coach Jarrod Haines and junior guard Kyla Burchett used the same word Monday night.
It was, once again, the centerpoint of a Tigers’ win … this time by a 53-28 count at Paint Valley in non-league play.
“We have super rare chemistry,” Burchett said. “Everyone generally likes each other and it’s a really positive atmosphere. So it’s really easy to have fun and try and do things right.”
Against the Bearcats, the Tigers (3-0) did a lot of things right, including moving the basketball, driving to the rim and playing lockdown defense.
“Getting after it defensively is what we’ve always been good at it and that’s what we drill into these kids,” Haines said. “We make sure we have each other’s backs. We wanted to make [Paint Valley’s] point guard miserable for 32 minutes. That’s always the plan and I think we did a pretty good job of that. That was the key I thought.”
Paint Valley (1-2) kept it close throughout the first eight minutes as Hanna Uhrig and Averi McFadden teamed up to close the gap late in the quarter to 9-8.
But in the second, McClain started to show glimpses of why they’ve been able to string together a season-opening three-game winning streak.
Burchett got her mid-range jumper working while teammates Brianna Weller and Jaelyn Pitzer battled for rebounds under the bucket.
All the while, Emma Stegbauer, Payton Pryor and Josie Crabtree contribued on both ends of the floor, helping to hold the Bearcats to just seven points in the second.
After using a 12-0 run to end the first half, the Tigers had a 26-15 lead at halftime … and edge that only grew in the third. Burchett continued to torch the nets, pacing McClain to a 38-19 lead entering the fourth.
“Kyla can just flat out score. She does it from the perimeter and she can get to the basket,” Haines said. “I thought she did a great job establishing herself. She’s kind of struggled the first two games, kind of got out of that against Court House by scoring 15. Today, she was incredible. She’s smart, she reads her defender well and she’s always got the green light. Not many teams are going to shut her down.”
Burchett continued her assault on the net into the fourth while her team’s defense didn’t let up, frustrating the Bearcats and forcing, in total, 31 turnovers.
Burchett ended the night with a game-high 18 points while Weller had 11 points and six rebounds. Pitzer finished with seven points, nine rebounds and three assists, and Stegbauer had six points, four boards and four dimes.
For Paint Valley, Hanna Uhrig led the team in scoring with 11 points alongside four rebounds while McFadden added four points and two assists. Olivia Smith also helped out, returning from sickness with 11 rebounds.
The Tigers will be back in action at Jackson on Wednesday before hosting Westfall on Saturday. As for the Bearcats, they’ll try to bounce back Thursday night, opening league play at Zane Trace.
“You can watch us play and it may be a different kid every night stepping up,” Haines said. “This is not the most overall talented team I’ve had, but together, it’s the best team I’ve ever coached. These girls are unselfish and they’d rather see each other do well. We definitely have good chemistry.”
McClain: 9-17-12-15 — 53
Paint Valley: 8-7-4-9 — 28
McClain: 19-64 FG, 11-17 FT, 4-18 3pt., 28 rebounds (Pitzer 9), 10 turnovers, 13 assists (Stegbauer 4). Scoring: Burchett 18, Weller 11, Pitzer 7, Stegbauer 6, Crabtree 5, VanZant 3, Sykes 2, Pryor 1.
Paint Valley: 9-44 FG, 8-13 FT, 2-11 3pt., 36 rebounds (Smith 11), 31 turnovers, 5 assists (McFadden 2). Scoring: H. Uhrig 11, McFadden 4, Stanforth 3, Smith 2, Proehl 2, Campbell 2, Mustard 2, B. Uhrig 2.