Brock Netter, Staff Writer
GREENFIELD — It always comes down to the smallest of margins when McClain and Miami Trace’s girls square off on the hardwood.
Both are tough, defensive-minded teams that force teams to adjust to their game play for 32 entire minutes.
But while defense continued to dominate the headlines in Wednesday’s contest, McClain had just enough on the offensive end behind Payton Pryor and Kyla Burchett to squeak out a narrow 33-30 victory over the Panthers.
“We played with a little more heart and hustle compared to Saturday’s loss against Westfall,” McClain coach Jarrod Haines said. “Watching these girls mature and bounce back was great because they haven’t been asked to do that this season. They have been playing together for a while, and to see the resilience they showed in a game and atmosphere like this makes me happy as a coach.”
Despite Miami Trace having a notable size advantage, McClain, per usual, brought a gritty mentality to the floor.
The Tigers (5-1, 3-0 FAC) out-hustled and out-fought Miami Trace for every offensive rebound or loose ball, eventually converting a few extra chances into buckets. Meanwhile, the Tigers’ defense, led by Emma Stegbauer, gave the Panthers all type of problems early.
Four different Tigers scored in the first quarter as they built a 9-2 lead going into the second.
“It’s always a competition between McClain and Miami Trace,” Stegbauer said. “Every game is hard and very rough, but it’s one of those games you get a little more excited for. We always make sure to bring it defensively.”
The tables completely turned in the second as the Panthers’ offense started to find some rhythm after Hillery Jacobs sank a pair of shots to cut the lead to 13-9.
But after two free throws from Miami Trace’s Libby Aleshire, the Tigers got one over on the Panthers (2-3, 2-1 FAC) as Jaelyn Pitzer buried a jumper at the buzzer for a 15-11 Tiger lead at the break.
“We fought hard, but we had trouble putting the ball in the hole,” Miami Trace coach Ben Ackley said. “We’re still making some of the same mistakes we did in the beginning of the season. Every kid is a new starter this year so we’re still figuring some things out and we’ve had our offensive struggles, but we’ll turn it around soon enough.”
It almost seemed like the Panthers figured out how to fix their offensive problems in the third. After cutting the lead to 17-16, Gracey Ferguson converted a lay-in followed by an offensive rebound and put back from Margarah Bloom on the next possession to give the Panthers a 20-17 lead.
However, they gave the lead up after a lay-in from Brianna Weller and a pair of free throws from Pryor to lead 21-20 into the fourth.
After more back and forth, McClain’s Kyla Burchett, who had been held scoreless up to that point, completely took over the game.
With the Tigers trailing 24-23, she scored her team’s next seven points, including her final bucket that put them ahead 30-26 with 2:04 left. That four-point margin proved to be too much for the Panthers to overcome down the stretch.
“We had a lot of different kids step up,” Haines said. “Payton was great all night long, Emma brought it defensively and Kyla got us some huge buckets in big moments. Miami Trace is no slouch at all, but defensively, this was the best game we’ve played all season.”
Pryor finished as the only player in double digits with 12 points and 11 rebounds, followed by seven points from Burchett.
Aleshire finished with nine points and six rebounds to lead the Panthers.
“The guards fed me inside and I was able to get open on the block,” Pryor said. “I made sure to be ready when my chance came. We played together as a team and stayed behind one another the whole way. This is a great team win for us.”
Both teams are back in FAC action on Saturday as McClain travels to Chillicothe and Miami Trace is at Hillsboro.
Miami Trace: 2-9-9-10 — 30
McClain: 9-6-6-12 — 33
Miami Trace: 10-30 FG, 7-9 FT, 1-7 3pt., 25 rebounds (Aleshire 6), 11 turnovers, 3 assists. Scoring: Aleshire 9, Bloom 6, Jacobs 5, McDonald 4, Pitstick 2, Akins 2, Ferguson 2.
McClain: 11-28 FG, 8-16 FT, 1-10 3pt., 27 rebounds (Pryor 11), 12 turnovers, 5 assists. Scoring: Pryor 12, Burchett 7, Pitzer 6, Weller 4, Stegbauer 4.