The St. James girls basketball team (21-0, 3-0 Four Rivers) hosted Pacific for a matchup of two of the top ranked teams in their classes on Thursday, Feb. 2. St. James entered the game as the second ranked team in Class 3, while Pacific was ranked fifth in Class 4. After a close first half, the Lady Tigers separated themselves in the second and ended the game with a 50-35 win.
Pacific came out of the gate with a lot of pressure, trying to force St. James into early mistakes. They did manage to slow down the potent St. James offense, but the Lady Tigers were able to build an early lead. Midway through the quarter St. James held a 7-2 lead thanks to Kenzie Guese down low. She faced off against Pacific's 6' 1" center Kali Myers and not only held her own, but forced Myers to commit two fouls early in the quarter, which sent her to the bench. Guese scored five points in the first to lead the Lady Tigers and lock down the paint. Even without their center, Pacific managed to make a comeback late in the quarter, cutting the St. James lead to 12-9 at the end of the quarter.
The Lady Tigers got out to a strong start in the second quarter, building their lead back out to nine points. Guese was slowed down a bit in the second, as Pacific started to collapse their defense around her. That opened things up for Devin Fuhring, who knocked down a three and scored five points in the quarter. Pacific cut the St. James lead to six with a three by Devon Fleming midway through the quarter and the Lady Tigers managed to maintain that lead for the rest of the quarter to take a 23-17 lead into the half.
Things opened back up for St. James in the third quarter. Several role players hit some big shots for the Lady Tigers in the third, which forced Pacific to guard the perimeter. Alyssa Rinehart knocked down a three and Madi Lindemann hit a long two-point shot and gave Guese some breathing room down low. Guese took advantage with nine points in the third quarter and the Lady Tigers built their lead out for good. They ended the third with a 39-26 lead.
Fuhring helped put the final stamp on things with five points in the fourth quarter. The St. James lead was stretched to 17 and they eventually won the game 50-35. Guese led the way with 18, while Fuhring added 14. The stout St. James defense was able to force Pacific into bad shots all night long, as the Lady Indians shot just 20 percent from the field.
"My kids played hard. They knew what was in front of them, they went out there and they executed," said head coach Terry Wells. "Defensively they just really executed the things that we practiced this week. They just did a great job."
The key to the game was Guese's success down low. Outside of Myer, Pacific has a lot more height than St. James, so winning down low was crucial. The thing that helped her the most was having teammates hit shots from the perimeter, which opened things up in the paint.
"It's huge (to have role players hit shots)," said Guese. "Coming out of that third quarter, we had that rough defensive start and coach Wells called a timeout and got us going. A couple kids came out and hit threes, got some steals and big defensive plays and it really helps a lot, it really opens up the floor."
Coach Wells said that those role players stepping up was the key to the game.
"We were begging for (role players to step up) at halftime. I thought that our supporting players offensively weren't playing with confidence, their shots looked forced and nervous and at halftime we talked. Almost the entire half they were in a junk defense, chasing Devin around and playing a zone around Kenzie and I said, 'you're gonna be wide open, we need someone to step up with some confidence and knock down a shot and we did," said coach Wells. "Really that was the key, we played equally good defense, I thought the entire night our defense was consistent and on point and we just needed somebody to chip in some points and if you noticed late in that third quarter and early in the fourth lanes opened wide up for Kenzie because we had stretched them out, hit some shots and they had to pay attention."
This win is huge for St. James as they head down the home stretch of the regular season. Their remaining games are all within the Four Rivers Conference, so knocking down the second best team in the conference gives them a confidence boost.
"It's very important, I think, because coming into this game we were all really nervous, Pacific is supposed to be good and they're supposed to give us our best competition this year," said Guese. "I think it gives us confidence knowing that we just beat Pacific, we have our heads up higher for the rest of the teams in our conference."
For coach Wells, it's simple.
"It's a Four Rivers Conference win, they're all big."
Next up for the Lady Tigers is a trip to Owensville on Monday, Feb. 6.
Guese - 18 pts, 12 reb, 4 asts; Fuhring - 14pts, 7 rebs, 1 stl; Paulus - 6 pts, 2 asts, 2 stl; Alyssa Rinehart - 3 pts; Lindemann - 3 pts, 1 reb, 1 ast; Riccetti - 2 pts, 5 asts, 4 rebs; Donnelly - 2 pts, 1 reb, 1 ast; Fane - 2 pts, 2 ast