ECRU- A short-handed North Pontotoc girls team battled hard at home against West Union on Friday, but ultimately the Lady Vikings could not find enough offense in a 40-34 loss.
With Shemiah Hadley and Macey Thomas out for the rest of the season, the Lady Vikings were also without key contributors Haisley Coker and Belle Ross. Three freshmen were in the starting lineup.
Eden Conlee started off the contest with a 3-pointer for the Lady Eagles, which was immediately answered when Maddie Guerin connected from downtown for North. Guerin then missed a shot after a post up, but she came down with a loose ball rebound and made a short jump hook to give the Lady Vikings what was ultimately their only lead of the day at 5-3. West Union tied it up on a pair of Ella Kate Taylor free throws. That proved to be the start of a 13-1 run to end the opening quarter, capped off by another three from Conlee with 14 seconds left that made it 16-6.
North got a pull-up jump shot from Guerin, a putback from Riley Mitchell, and a 3-point play after a driving layup by Anna Brooke Sullivan in the second quarter, but West Union produced by a pair of 3-pointers from Conlee and Taylor, as well as three free throws, to take a 25-13 lead into halftime.
The Lady Vikings continued to play scrappy defense the remainder of the game. They held West Union to only six third quarter points to stay in it. Sullivan scored North’s first basket of the second half when she got open under the basket for an uncontested layup. Mitchell later scored on another offensive rebound, Guerin knocked down a short jumper in the lane, and Bella Hayes dished to Abi Grace Warren for a baseline jumper to end the third, pulling North to within 31-21.
North held West Union to single digit scoring once again in the fourth, as the Lady Eagles put up only nine points. The Lady Vikings continued to gradually chip away at the lead. Mitchell drilled a 3-pointer early in the fourth, grabbing a steal on the ensuing West Union possession. That led to a layup by Gracie Corley on an inbounds play, which cut the deficit to 33-26 with 5:33 to go.
Taylor got to the foul line and made one of two for West Union, followed by Guerin draining a jumper to make it 34-28 with just under three minutes remaining. North cut it to a six-point game twice more. Guerin came up with a steal under the basket and laid it in to pull the Lady Vikings to within 36-30 with two minutes to play, but North could not get any closer. West Union got to the charity stripe on consecutive possessions, hitting two of four. Corley rolled in a layup to make it 38-32 with 1:20 left. North then had an opportunity to pull even closer after a steal, but they came up empty. The Lady Eagles did not record a field goal in the final 6:34, but they got to the foul line and made timely free throws down the stretch.
“Our freshmen are an exciting group. They play hard and love to play. They are just being thrown into the fire right now,” North Pontotoc head coach Waldrop said. “They are having to learn on the fly, but I can’t be more pleased with their attitude and effort.
“We were undefeated and rolling along pretty well before all these injuries started to happen. We just have to reevaluate our goals, try to win some games and show progress with this younger group. We are learning and getting better, but we have a really tough schedule.”