APEX — Things are getting harder to figure out in the Tri-9 Conference. The Middle Creek and Panther Creek girls’ basketball teams knew that a win Friday wouldn’t solve the playoff puzzle, but it would be one step towards separating from the five-team group battling for the league’s final three state playoff spots.
On the backs of a strong defensive effort for much of the night, Panther Creek came away with a 51-46 win despite a late rally by the host Mustangs.
What worked: Panther Creek (11-9, 6-7) settled down in the third quarter, and coach Geoff Bowman said watching his team build a 16-point lead was the best his team has looked offensively all year.
Center Allie Tuttle said an online comment questioning her team’s chemistry brought them closer.
“It was crazy, because we all love each other,” Tuttle said. “So we just wanted to go out and really support each other this game.”
Middle Creek’s depth, a usual strong point under coach Wes Petty, was there again. The Mustangs (12-8, 7-5) cut the lead to just one with 1:04 remaining on the backs of reserve mainly its reserves.
Improvement needed: A big reason for the low halftime score (MC led 15-12) were the Middle Creek shot selection and Panther Creek’s mishandling of the ball. Too often, the smaller Mustangs players driving into taller PC forwards and getting blocked.
Panther Creek’s struggles with passing and catching prevented some well-designed plays from being well-executed.
Putting up numbers: Tuttle narrowly missed her third career triple-double with 18 points, 10 rebounds and nine blocked shots. Also filling the stat sheets were her teammates Jordan Webb (eight points, four rebounds, five steals, five assists) and Mercedes Harris (eight points, nine rebounds, four blocks).
Middle Creek’s Brianna McCrimmon came off the bench to lead her team in points (12) and steals (four).
Unsung heroes: Due to foul trouble, Middle Creek’s bench had to step up in a big game and it did. The final minutes were played with three or four bench players, and they kept the Mustangs in it till the end. Ayan Ali, Ashley Shenk, Holly Hite and McCrimmon combined to outscore the Middle Creek starters 26-20 and came up with big steals down the stretch.
“I think every kid on our team can contribute in one way, shape or form – whether it’s scoring or defense or rebounding, everybody brings something positive to the table,” Petty said. “I always tell our kids ‘Be ready when the time comes,’ and this group is.”
On the Panther Creek side, Waverly Peng (10 points) only corraled one steal but made it harder on Middle Creek’s offense by battling away passes. She then went 4-of-4 at the line to ice the game.
Going forward: Panther Creek and Middle Creek each have daunting schedules remaining. Of the five teams still battling for those final three remaining automatic playoff bids, only the Mustangs and Catamounts don’t have a game with either of the league’s eighth or ninth place teams.
“We needed this a couple nights ago, but better late than never and it’s going to give us momentum going into next week,” Bowman said. “We’ve got a tough week ahead of us, but you know what? Everybody does. It’s a gaunlet for everybody in our conference.”
Blake: 919-460-2606 or twitter.com/JMBpreps