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January 11, 2014

No. 5 West Central survives Caston upset bid

FULTON — The Caston girls basketball team’s upset bid fell just short against Class A No. 5 West Central Friday night.

The Trojans survived with a 36-33 win in overtime in a key Midwest Conference game.

The Comets (7-5, 2-1 MWC) will likely get another shot at the Trojans (10-1, 4-0) in about four weeks at the West Central Sectional.

The Comets were clearly well prepared for the Trojans and when they didn’t turn the ball over against their smothering halfcourt trap or fullcourt man defense they were able to get pretty good looks at the hoop. Ten of their 12 made baskets in the game were on assists.

“Offensively, I thought we got some really good looks when we used ball fakes and we reversed the basketball and made them work both sides of the floor,” Caston coach Carl Davis said. “Obviously there are some things we need to clean up with taking care of the basketball, but I love the way the girls competed tonight against them. That’s one of the most athletic teams we’ll see on our schedule, and I thought our girls did a good job of taking care of the pace that we had to do to slow them down.”

The low-scoring game played into the Comets favor, as West Central was held well under its season average by the stingy Comets.

“I thought we did a good job of taking them out of what they wanted to do, and we played the game at our speed,” Davis said.

Tierney Rentschler and Jaycee Denton made back-to-back 3-pointers to give Caston a 12-5 lead late in the first quarter. Alivia Kruger drilled a shot in the corner on an inbounds play with just 2.3 seconds left in the frame to make it a 12-7 game after one.

Caston continued its strong start in the second quarter, and Sarah Holt scored on a coast-to-coast basket just before the halftime horn to give the Comets an 18-15 lead at the break.

West Central took its first lead of the game on a driving bucket by Mickayla Wenzel two minutes into the third quarter. The rest of the frame was back and forth, and an Anna Brown basket gave the Comets a 24-23 lead after three.

Denton made back-to-back 3-pointers to open the fourth for the Comets to give them a 30-28 lead. But Wenzel and Ashton Barkho answered with driving baskets on consecutive possessions to give West Central a 32-30 lead. Mickayla Rans drew a foul and hit both free throws to knot the score at 32-apiece with 2:40 left in regulation. The score would remain that way after Wenzel’s contested 3-pointer at the buzzer was off the mark.

West Central quickly took control in the overtime session after a basket by Kruger and two free throws by Barkho in the one-and-bonus. The Comets finally got on the board when Rans hit 1 of 2 free throws with 39.1 seconds left.

Caston forced a double dribble violation. Marli Leazenby got a good look from 3 and the shot was on line but it fell just short. Barkho then missed the front end of a 1-and-1 and Denton got a good look from 3 and it was on line but it was just long. Leazenby stole the inbounds pass near midcourt and Davis called timeout with 4.2 seconds left. Denton had a good look from 3 to again try to tie the game but it was just off the mark and West Central was able to hold on for victory.

“I’d like to say we executed down the stretch, but we didn’t,” West Central coach Brad Odom said. “It felt like we were trying to find ways to give the game away whenever we got a lead. But sometimes you have to win however possible. Like I told the kids, we might have made some boneheaded decisions on the offensive end, but we showed some real toughness and grit on the defensive end and got stops.”

As well as the Comets played to get in a position to upset the Trojans, their turnovers did add up against the constant pressure. Caston committed 27 turnovers for the game but did force 18.

One explanation for some of the sloppiness could certainly be blamed on the lack of practice time due to the blizzard and polar freeze that gripped the area this week.

Odom also pointed to his squad’s ice-cold free-throw shooting. The Trojans made just 5 of 13 including 3 of 10 in the first half.

“We could have had a working lead at the half, but sometimes not being in the gym your execution creeps up on you,” he said.

Davis is a defense-first coach and his troops certainly oblige. Odom gave credit to where it was due.

“We’re a team that plays in the 50s typically, but they did a great job of keeping us from getting easy looks, and when we did get what seemed like a nice look, they contested it well enough that it kind of threw us off,” he said. “But no excuses, both of us had to deal with not practicing most of the week. But it’s a gritty, tough win.”

Odom said it was no surprise the Comets were well prepared for his squad. The three-time defending sectional champion and highly ranked Trojans certainly have a bull’s-eye on their back this season.

“I kind of joked with Carl after the game, I said I kind of feel like he’s a part of my staff as much as I see him. That guy is at more of my games than anybody except maybe our parents. He knows everything that we do, anything that I called out, he was directing his kids what to do. We have counters off of that, and his kids seemed like they were prepared for those too,” Odom said. “He does a tremendous job. I told him I’m so impressed of how good of a coach that he is.”

Brown led the Comets with 10 points, six rebounds and a block. Denton had nine points on 3-of-6 shooting from beyond the arc and added four boards. Holt had six points and two steals. Rentschler had three points, two assists, three rebounds and three steals. Rans had three points and five rebounds. Leazenby added two points and four assists.

Wenzel led the Trojans with 12 points and four rebounds. Barkho had 10 points, seven assists, four rebounds and four steals. Kruger had 10 points, four rebounds and four steals. Mesha Masters chipped in four points and three steals.

Both teams are back in action tonight. Caston travels to Clinton Central and West Central hosts Rensselaer.

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