Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
WASHINGTON C.H. — If Washington coach Sam Leach needed a measuring stick to test just how much grit her girls have this season, Saturday’s non-conference slate with Minford provided one.
In a nip and tuck contest all the way through, the Blue Lions (3-1) scratched and clawed their way to a resilient 39-36 win over the visiting Falcons to continue a strong start to the season.
“We knew that tonight was going to be a challenge, just because Minford outmatches us in terms of size,” Leach said. “They’re a lot bigger than us and a lot stronger than us. So it was all about toughness and who was going to be tougher. I thought we showed our toughness and grit. I felt like our kids stepped up and were able to build off momentum.”
While Washington’s Shawna Conger led the way, her teammates made sure they left their fingerprints on the final score as well.
Conger was responsible for nearly half of the team’s scoring total but a mix of Aaralyne Estep, Kendall Dye, Jeleeya Smith and Halli Wall were just as important to the outcome.
Estep hit two imperative jumpers in the second half, Dye led the team’s defense by taking three charges, Smith led the team in rebounding and Wall knocked down a big 3 late in the game.
Team performances like Saturday’s, according to Leach, are why the Blue Lions have won three of their first four contests.
“We’ve played hard and we’ve played good team defense,” Leach said. “I think a lot of games can be won on the defensive end. Our two keys in practice and in every game are taking care of the ball and winning the battle on the boards. So many people focus on other things. But at the end of the day, the game comes down to simple things. That was the case tonight.”
Minford (1-3) jumped out to a 9-4 lead behind Livi Shonkwiler and Maddie Slusher. The Falcons’ guard duo caused early turnovers which led to points in transition. However, after calling a timeout with 2:36 to go in the first quarter, the Blue Lions went on a 5-0 run to tie the game.
With 7:21 left in the second, Conger hit a 3 to give WCH a 12-10 lead. But the Falcons, behind Shonkwiler and Slusher, ended the half on an 8-1 run, taking an 18-13 lead into the break.
Later, with 3:45 left in the third, Dye scored one of her two buckets to put the Blue Lions back on top at 23-21. Minford took a 26-25 lead early in the fourth, but when Conger hit a 3 to put the Blue Lions back on top at 30-29 with 5:06 left, they never trailed again.
Conger’s 3 was the start of a 10-1 run as her team took the biggest lead of the night at 37-30, a run that was ended by Wall’s 3 with 2:20 remaining. Shonkwiler scored twice and assisted on a bucket down the stretch, but the Blue Lions managed to hang on to a three-point win.
“We knew coming into this that everything [Washington] did ran through [Conger],” Minford coach Shane Davis said. “She was our focus. But that’s an aggressive team. It’s disappointing for us. Our shots just aren’t falling right now. But we’ll find it somehow. We knew it was going to be a battle tonight, just like every night in the SOC. But if we make shots, we’re talking about a different story. But you know how ifs go.”
Conger led all scorers with 19 points to go alongside three rebounds and four assists. Estep scored six points and brought down four boards, Wall had seven points and six rebounds, and Smith totaled three points and eight rebounds.
For Minford, Shonkwiler led the way with 14 points while Slushed added 11 points and seven rebounds. Hannah Tolle also helped out, scoring nine points and grabbing eight boards.
Minford is back in action Thursday night, traveling to West, while Washington tries to keep momentum rolling with a trip to Chillicothe on Wednesday.
“We’re excited about the win tonight but there’s definitely a lot of things we have to clean up,” Leach said. “We’re going to continue to focus on defense and rebounding. [Chillicothe] is similar to Minford in the way that they’re physical and aggressive on the glass. So rebounding is going to be another huge key. We’ll continue to focus on the small things that make a big difference.”
Minford: 9-9-6-12 — 36
Washington: 9-6-10-14 — 39
Minford: 13-48 FG, 8-17 FT, 2-12 3pt., 32 rebounds (Tolle 8), 19 turnovers, 8 assists (Makayla Watters 3). Scoring: Shonkwiler 14, Slusher 11, Tolle 9, Cartee 2.
Washington: 14-44 FG, 8-15 FT, 3-16 3pt., 26 rebounds (Smith 8), 14 turnovers, 7 assists (Conger 4). Scoring: Conger 19, Wall 7, Estep 6, Dye 4, Smith 3.