The St. James girls basketball team (2-2) hosted Blair Oaks on Thursday, Dec. 6. After a slow start, St. James clawed their way back into the game, but a last second three clanged off the back of the rim, as St. James fell 42-39.
Offense was hard to come by all night long, but the game started as a purely defensive battle. Almost four minutes had elapsed in the first quarter before either team broke onto the scoreboard. Blair Oaks struck first with a three from Halie Rackers. The floodgates eventually opened for Blair Oaks, as they knocked down a trio of threes in the opening quarter, two of which came from Rackers. St. James, meanwhile, couldn't get into a rhythm. Mikayla Donnelly got St. James on the board after an offensive rebound, but the only other basket came from Hannah Marcee. With only two field goals, St. James trailed 12-4 after the first quarter.
Blair Oaks kept rolling in the second quarter. St. James loves to get their offense going in transition, but the Lady Falcons shut down those passing lanes and kept the Lady Tigers on their heels. Blair Oaks opened the quarter with a three from Makenna Kliethermes and quickly stretched their lead out to 19-5. St. James finally got their first field goal of the quarter when Savanna Riccetti knocked down a three over three minutes into the quarter. Blair Oaks then scored the next four points, which forced a St. James time out at the midway point in the frame. After regrouping, the Lady Tigers finished the quarter strong. Defensively, St. James held Blair Oaks off the board for the rest of the quarter. The Lady Tiger offense then got buckets from Riccetti, Bailey Wells and Aly Bullock, which closed the gap to 23-15 at the half.
The end of the first half gave St. James some much needed momentum and that carried into the second half. Riccetti opened the third quarter with a three. From there, the defenses took over. St. James was dealt a big blow when Marcee, who'd been battling with several taller Lady Falcons in the paint, was called for her fourth foul, sending her to the bench for most of the game from there on out. After the foul, the Lady Tigers got another spark from Riccetti, who grabbed a steal and scored on the other end to bring the score to 25-20. Riccetti then hit a pair of free throws with 3:11 left in the third to cut the score to 26-23. The St. James offense continued to struggle a bit in the half court, but Wells was able to grind in the paint for another basket with 1:30 left in the third to cut the deficit to one at 26-25. Blair Oaks added a pair of free throws before the end of the quarter and carried a 28-25 lead into the final frame.
While the offense was hot and cold, St. James kept fighting in the fourth. The Lady Tigers were able to take their first lead of the game early in the quarter thanks to some great play in the lane. First, Donnelly drove and hit a layup, drawing a foul in the process. She missed the free throw attempt, but Wells was there to clean up, grabbing the offensive board and going to the line herself after getting fouled. Wells hit both free throws to give St. James a 29-28 lead. The Lady Tigers added two more points before Rackers knocked down a three to lock the game at 31. Ashlyn Rinehart took the lead back for St. James with a pair of free throws with 2:41 to play, but Rackers again came up clutch for Blair Oaks with another three, giving Blair Oaks a 34-33 lead. A free throw from Wells 20 seconds later tied the game again, but a drive from Claire Heckman gave the lead back to Blair Oaks, as she hit the layup while getting fouled. Heckman converted at the charity stripe, putting Blair Oaks up 37-34.
The Lady Tigers refused to back down, as Wells cut the deficit to one point with a layup with 1:30 left to play. Rackers punched back with a pair of free throws to extend the lead back out to three with 45 seconds left to play. Both teams then traded free throws and St. James had the ball with 15.7 seconds left trailing by three after Kliethermes missed two free throws for Blair Oaks. The Lady Falcons brought the pressure with a full court press, so Riccetti weaved her way through the defense and drove for a layup, rather than looking to tie the game with a three. She hit the layup, bringing the score to 40-39. St. James head coach Terry Wells said the pressure from Blair Oaks meant it was easier to attack and hope to get some help from the Lady Falcons at the free throw line.
"When they went full court pressure, we came out of our time out and I just told the girls to attack and get a layup, because I knew they weren't going to guard the lane," said coach Wells. "We got the quick two, still had eight seconds left and had the chance of fouling them and being only down one or two if they missed some free throws and not have to get a three pointer."
After the bucket, Rackers went to the line for Blair Oaks and converted on both of her attempts, so St. James needed to get the three. Riccetti hustled down court and got a clean look from three, but the shot hit the back of the rim, giving Blair Oaks the 42-39 win.
While Riccetti just missed on the game-winner, she came up big for St. James all night long. She led the team in scoring with 16 points, while adding four rebounds, three steals and two assists. Coach Wells has appreciated her leadership and play all season long as one of the most experienced players on a young team.
"She's just playing money," said the St. James head coach. "She's playing a little bit hurt, she's got a bum ankle, and she's playing 32 minutes nearly every night and she's doing her job as the floor captain of this team. "She's a heck of a kid and a heck of a ball player."
St. James also got nine points out of Wells in the loss. She added four rebounds, two steals, an assist and a block. Marcee, Donnelly and Bullock each had four points. Donnelly had five rebounds, two steals and two assists to go with those points. Marcee added three rebounds, while Bullock chipped in with a pair of boards and an assist. Rinehart had two points to go with a team-high six rebounds, two assists and a steal.
While the Lady Tigers nearly completed their comeback, coach Wells is hoping to see the girls get out to some better starts so they don't have to dig their way out of big holes every night.
"It isn't important that they bounced back. It's important that they don't get out to sluggish starts, because that got us at Licking, that got us at Fatima, we got lucky enough to win, we had a slow first half against Cuba and now we come out here tonight," said coach Wells. "You can not get down by 10 every single game to good teams and expect to come back. You've got to show up from the tip."
St. James had no time off, as they hit the road to play at Mountain View Liberty on Friday. Results from that game were not available at press time.. Next up for the Lady Tigers is the Sullivan Tournament. They open the tournament against Owensville on Monday, Dec. 10.