Down two starters, Independence scrapped and clawed its way to a 37-34 win over visiting Lutheran West on Wednesday.
The Blue Devils, who improved to 9-3, struggled through the second quarter as the Longhorns built a 21-16 halftime. Independence outscored Lutheran West in the third, 10-4, and held off the Longhorns in the final eight minutes in extending their winning streak to three games.
“We felt good walking out of the gym with everybody pitching in and that’s what we had talked about,” said Independence coach Mike Marcinko. “We did a nice job at the end of the Cuyahoga Heights game (a 37-33 win on Wednesday) where people pitched in and did their job or even did a little bit more. Today had to be no different, we just talked about next man up. Step up; your opportunity is going to come so make the best of it.”
Kara DeSmith, who finished the night with 11 points, scored four in the first quarter as the Blue Devils took an early lead.
“It definitely felt good and was a confidence booster to step up and score, especially for this game,” DeSmith said. “Knowing we have two of our starters out, we knew this was going to be a challenging game. What was really working well for me on offense was that I drove past them while they were closing me out so that their feet weren’t set to guard me, which gave me some really good open shots.”
Lutheran West’s Evelyn Albers and Hope Kiraly heated up in the second quarter as they combined to score 10 of the Longhorns’ 13 points in that frame while Independence scored just four points.
Albers finished with a game-high 14 points while Kiraly added 12.
“We lost our way a couple of times because we were out of sync,” Marcinko said. “We had a lot of different people on the floor at different times and some people out of position but they always found a way to make it work and hang around long enough to put themselves in a position to win at the end.”
Anna Weber drained a 3-pointer on the way to a seven-point third quarter as the Blue Devils bounced back and took a 26-25 lead with eight minutes left to play.
Weber finished with 12 despite sitting out most of the first half due to foul trouble.
DeSmith hit a key 3-pointer with 30 seconds remaining to give the Blue Devils the momentum down the stretch.
“This game really showed me that I can handle the ball better than I thought and to look for my shot,” DeSmith said. “Now, going forward, I will definitely be driving to the hoop and looking for my shot more often.”
Alex Adams stepped in at point guard and played well on both ends.
Following DeSmith’s 3-pointer, the Blue Devils forced a turnover and Lutheran West fouled Adams, who converted the one-and-one opportunity.
“She did a great job,” Marcinko said of Adams. “She sealed it for us with two free throws at the end of the game with three seconds left. We got a stop and they had to foul. Alex popped wide open on an out of bounds play and she tried to run away but they fouled her. With three seconds to go, she goes to the line for a one-and-one and nailed them both.”
Madison Stepanik contributed to the win with nine points and several other Blue Devils contributed with strong defensive efforts or by setting screens and rebounding.
“Kate Coljohn finally started to play. She’s been out with an ankle injury for a month or month and a half. She came out and hit a 3 for us and rebounded and defended. She did a heck of a job in her first full game back,” Marcinko said. “Ashley Adams came out and McKenzie McMahon came out, those two did a heck of a job filling in and playing hard. Casey Adams came out and defended their point guard. She played the one for us for a little bit in relief of her sister and defended their point guard and did a tremendous job. Up and down the lineup, people just took turns and got things done to put ourselves in a position to win at the end and we got it done.”
Independence travels to Brooklyn on Saturday.