Bulldog girls fall to Spring Hill in finals
GARDNER It was an early season showdown between not only two of the best teams in the Frontier League, but the state as well here Friday. Spring Hill and Baldwin High School's girls are both ranked in the top five teams in Class 4A and were pitted in the championship of the Trailblazer Invitational.
Spring Hill prevailed by a 60-50 count, ending the Bulldog's hopes of repeating as tournament champions. BHS won the tourney last year on a last-second shot by Colleen Kivett and the Bulldog faithful held onto hope all the way to the end.
"I thought we were in the game the whole time," said coach Eric Toot. "We didn't make some shots we should have. I already think we're better than we were last year.
"Emily (Brown) and Anna (Skaggs) are making some strong moves around the basket and Casey (Millstein) is playing well, too," Toot said of his post players. "We are so much better at post than we were a year ago."
Spring Hill is better, too. Depending on which poll was looked at last week, BHS was ranked No. 3 in both the Consensus Class 4A poll and the Coaches' poll. Spring Hill was ranked No. 2 in the Coaches' version and No. 4 in the Consensus poll. Both teams played up to those billings Friday.
Thanks to strong inside play from Brown, Skaggs and Millstein and a couple of long-distance 3-pointers by junior guard Kayla Pringle, BHS had a 19-16 first-quarter lead. The Bulldogs kept that lead and with a 15-footer by Kivett with 1:36 left, they were up 28-26 at halftime.
However, Baldwin High suffered a scoring drought in the third quarter that would prove to be fatal. Spring Hill took advantage to take a 34-28 lead and the Broncos never lost it. BHS pulled within three at the end of the third quarter with a 12-footer from Millstein and a Skaggs' free throw.
Skaggs scored inside to open the fourth frame to trim the margin to just one at 41-40. She followed that with a layup after the Broncos scored to keep it within one at 43-42. That's when BHS went into another scoring funk and Spring Hill raced to a 54-43 lead with 2:36 left. BHS pulled within seven points, but that was as close as the Bulldogs would get.
"I thought we played a good basketball game," said Toot. "Offensively, we did some nice things. I think there were three things that beat us defensive transition, we missed some shots we should have made and we got out rebounded.
"We hit two cold spells," he said. "If we would have hit some shots there, they wouldn't have been able to rebound and beat us down the court. They are one of the best teams in the state and I think they proved that."
Toot was pleased that his squad improved in the turnover department, committing just nine. He also thought the offense produced opportunities for good shots. But, early in the season, he thought fatigue factored in, too. BHS starters hadn't played very much in three blow-out wins to open the season. Without practice because of the tournament, the fatigue showed up in the fourth quarter.
The Bulldogs were also hampered Friday because of starting point guard Jodie Bacon's early foul trouble. Bacon picked up two fouls in the first quarter and had to sit and quickly picked up her third foul in the second quarter and had to sit the rest of the half.
"Not only did that hurt us, it hurt her there in the second half because she wasn't in the flow of the game," said Toot. "When she was in the game, she did some good things."
It also gave Pringle and junior guard Katie Martin some experience at point.
"Kayla's been playing well all year. She's very important to us," he said. "Katie Martin played very well at point guard."
Brown topped the scoring with 11 points, but not by much. She was joined in double digits by Kivett and Millstein who both had 10 points. Skaggs wasn't far off with eight tallies.
The loss dropped BHS's record to 3-1 on the season. The Bulldogs will have two home games before Christmas, both against ranked opponents. They'll play Anderson County, ranked No. 5, at 6:30 p.m. Friday, and Ottawa, ranked No. 1, at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.
"We've got two home games before Christmas, two tough games against two ranked teams," said Toot. "Both are going to be challenging games. Those are the games we want to play. It's not a challenge to win by 50. You want to play the best so you can be the best.
"I'm not at all disappointed," he said of the loss to Spring Hill. "There are some things we can improve on. We played well."