CASPER – Cheyenne Central was out of rhythm for the majority of Thursday’s Class 4A state tournament opener against Star Valley.
The Lady Indians had problems finding any consistency shooting, which only added to their frustrations, while the Lady Braves leaned on a smothering help-side defense and timely scoring to earn a 48-34 victory Casper College’s “Swede” Erickson Thunderbird Gym and a trip to the state semifinals.
Thursday’s tilt was there for the taking for Central, but a team that relies on ball movement, screens and getting off quality shots couldn’t buy one during the first half.
The result was a hole too deep climb out of.
“We did not shoot very well, and we got a lot of high percentage looks doing it,” said Central coach Glen Kirkbride, whose team shot just 29.5 percent from the floor. “Honestly, I keep saying it, but give (Star Valley) credit. They played especially well on the defensive end. They were help-side all the time. Every time we tried to get anything going, they were really solid defensively. They are a very solid team, and they are very good.”
Central (17-9 overall) didn’t do itself any favors in the first half.
Despite a lot of open looks in high-percentage scoring areas, Central wasn’t able to cash in. Star Valley, meanwhile, was able to penetrate the lane and get to the free-throw line. Caitland Erickson had a pair of three-point plays in the opening quarter to help push Star Valley ahead 14-5 at the end of the first quarter.
The No. 3-ranked Braves (22-3) continued to have the hot hand in the second quarter, both beyond and inside the perimeter. Otessa Olsen controlled the paint with six points, and Abigail Coles connected from 3-point range to widen the gap to 23-12 at the break.
Central shot just 26.3 percent from the floor in the first half, despite forcing 12 turnovers.
“When you get looks and they don’t go (in), it’s really disheartening,” Kirkbride added. “It’s really disheartening. We were in a deal where we’d finally get a little positivity and then miss an easy one. You just can’t do that at the state tournament, and we did.”
The Indians’ offense was gobbled up by the Braves, who stepped up and took away shooting lanes every possession, it seemed.
“We didn’t know how to handle their help-side (defense),” said Central junior guard Ellie Fearneyhough, who was held to just five points on 2 of 8 shooting.
Added Kirkbride: “That’s as good as a help-side defense as we’ve seen all year. And we were banking on being able to get some looks where their help defense is caught too far away, and we never did. Never did the whole night, never got those looks.”
More troublesome was the fact the No. 5-ranked Indians never seemed to be on the right page as a team. When they did come together and play as a unit, it was too little too late.
“We were playing (for) ourselves and doing our own thing, so once we get that figured out, and we were starting to towards the end (of the game),” Fearneyhough added.
Central pulled within seven points after a gutsy drive by Fearneyhough midway through the third quarter. The Central standout powered her way to the rim, got the bucket to fall and was fouled. She completed the three-point play to close the gap to 27-20 with 5 minutes, 17 seconds to go in the frame.
But Star Valley adjusted and, after switching to a zone scheme, formed a brick wall in the paint, instead forcing Central to shoot from the perimeter. The move paid dividends. (Central was just 1 of 14 from beyond the arc for the game). Central never got any closer to tying the game.
Star Valley’s Olivia Muir posted a game-high 14 points, while Erickson finished with 10. Central’s Jordan Jones scored a team-best 11 points and added nine rebounds and four steals.
“Second half, that was tough,” Central junior Jayla Jones said. “We couldn’t really use our posts as much. (Their zone) affected us because we weren’t hitting shots on the outside, and the only way we were scoring was on the inside, and they took that away.
“That definitely put us down deeper into that hole.”
Central takes on Green River at 10:30 a.m. today in an elimination game at Casper Events Center.
“We get to play again (today),” said Kirkbride, “and (we’ll) see what we can do.”
STAR VALLEY 48, CENTRAL 34
Cheyenne Central...…..................5 7 8 14 – 34
Star Valley...…............................ 14 9 9 16 – 48
Cheyenne Central: J. Jones 5-12 0-1 11, Gashler 1-1 0-0 2, Harris 0-0 0-0 0, Delbridge 1-5 1-4 3, Stults 0-0 0-0 0, Fagenbush 2-5 0-1 4, Sallee 1-4 2-4 4, Fearneyhough 2-8 1-1 5, Boltz 0-0 0-0 0, Whalen 0-1 2-2 2, Ja. Jones 1-7 1-1 3, Fraley 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 13-44 7-14 34.
Star Valley: Battleson 0-0 0-0 0, A. Coles 3-12 2-3 9, L. Coles 0-0 0-0 0, C. Erickson 4-8 2-2 10, S. Erickson 2-4 0-1 6, Brog 0-0 0-0 0, Christie 0-0 0-0 0, Merritt 0-2 0-0 0, Hunsaker 0-2 0-0 0, Muir 7-12 0-2 14, Hale 0-0 0-0 0, Olsen 3-3 3-6 9. Totals: 19-43 7-14 48.
Halftime: Star Valley 23, Cheyenne Central 12. 3-pointers: Central 1-14 (Jo. Jones 1-3, Delbridge 0-2, Fagenbush 0-3, Sallee 0-1, Fearneyhough 0-1, Whalen 0-1, Ja. Jones 0-3); Star Valley 3-8 (A. Coles 1-4, S. Erickson 2-2, Merritt 0-1, Hunsaker 0-1). Rebounds: Central 27 (Jo. Jones 9); Star Valley 38 (C. Erickson 8). Assists: Central 0; Star Valley 8 (Muir 2, Olsen 2) Turnovers: Central 18 (Delbridge 5); Star Valley 17 (Four with 3). Blocks: Central 4 (Four with 1); Star Valley 1 (Muir). Steals: Central 11 (Jo. Jones 4); Star Valley 9 (Olsen 3). Team fouls: Central 15, Star Valley 15. Fouled out: Central 1 (Boltz).