2017-03-09 / Sports

Pickford Girls Players Are District Champions, Defeating Cedarville 46-43

By Jacob A. Ball


The district champion Pickford Panthers girls basketball team (back row, from left) team managers Lucy Bennin, Lizzy Storey, and Kennedy Guild, Grace France-Wineguard, Head Coach Greg Wright, Darcy Bennin, Taylor Opolka, Brianna Portice, Kayla Rambo, Taylor Thurmes, Assistant Coach Christy Thurmes; (middle) Jenna DePeel, Tori Thurmes, Victoria Portice, Carley Cottle, Clare Cottle; (front) Annyka Franklin, Elaina Rader, Shaunna Michalski, and team managers Cassey Cottle and Madison Thurmes. The district champion Pickford Panthers girls basketball team (back row, from left) team managers Lucy Bennin, Lizzy Storey, and Kennedy Guild, Grace France-Wineguard, Head Coach Greg Wright, Darcy Bennin, Taylor Opolka, Brianna Portice, Kayla Rambo, Taylor Thurmes, Assistant Coach Christy Thurmes; (middle) Jenna DePeel, Tori Thurmes, Victoria Portice, Carley Cottle, Clare Cottle; (front) Annyka Franklin, Elaina Rader, Shaunna Michalski, and team managers Cassey Cottle and Madison Thurmes. For the second time in three seasons, the Cedarville Trojans faced the Pickford Panthers for the District 124 girls’ basketball final. Pickford, this year’s host and two-time defending champion, came away with the trophy after outlasting Cedarville in a hard-fought defensive battle, 46-43. The Panthers shot well, making eight three-pointers on the night, and four in the first quarter. The Trojans made two three-pointers throughout the game, and kept the contest within two possessions for almost the entire night. Until halfway through the fourth quarter, the largest lead for either side was five points. Both teams’ vaunted defenses stayed true to form, but in the end, Pickford was able to make a few more shots when it mattered the most. Both teams played their semifinal matchups the night before after weather forced a change to the schedule. In the first quarter, this was apparent with heavy legs and tired minds leading to several turnovers and missed opportunities at the start.


Senior Elissa Griffin of Cedarville drives past senior Kayla Rambo of Pickford for a score in the fourth quarter of the District 124 final at Pickford High School Saturday, March 4. Griffin scored a teamhigh 15 points as Cedarville lost a hard-fought battle 46-43. Senior Elissa Griffin of Cedarville drives past senior Kayla Rambo of Pickford for a score in the fourth quarter of the District 124 final at Pickford High School Saturday, March 4. Griffin scored a teamhigh 15 points as Cedarville lost a hard-fought battle 46-43. Scoring began after junior Taylor Opolka of Pickford grabbed an offensive rebound and passed the ball out to senior Taylor Thurmes for a three-point basket. Cedarville would answer back immediately with a layup that was followed by a Pickford turnover on the ensuing possession. Senior Elissa Griffin of Cedarville converted the opportunity with a long two-point shot, giving the Trojans their first lead of the night at 4-3. Opolka would score five points straight to take back the lead 8-4. First, she grabbed two offensive rebounds on one possession before converting it into points on a putback, and then she drained a threepointer from the wing. Cedarville commited two turnovers in a row during this sequence, before senior Trojan Mackenzie Barr cut the lead back to one with an open drive to the basket following some great ball movement. Senior guard Kayla Rambo of Pickford, who scored a game-high 19 points, would get herself going with a three-pointer a little over halfway through the quarter. Griffin would, however, keep the Trojans in the game, scoring seven points in the first quarter, including a fastbreak score to follow-up her own steal at the other end. Cedarville did not look like their normal selves early on as traveling violations plagued their offense. After Opolka gathered an offensive rebound and scored, Griffin would nail a threepointer to cut the Panthers’ lead back to one point, 13-12. With time running out in the first quarter, Rambo would hit another three to give Pickford a four-point lead, 16-12 entering the second.

The second quarter saw both teams commit several turnovers, including three steals in a row at the start, as the Panthers and the Trojans traded empty possessions. The first six points of the period would come from the free throw line before junior Hannah Perkins of Cedarville scored off an assist from teammate Kylee Call. With two minutes and 30 seconds left in the first half, Pickford was leading 21-19 after Opolka recorded another offensive rebound and put-back. Trojans junior Nadijah Nye would hit a pair of free throws followed by two straight traveling violations by the Panthers. Griffin would take advantage of Pickford’s scoring drought to take the lead 22- 21 off a three-point basket with one minute left in the half. Two possessions later, Rambo would respond with a three-pointer of her own as the Panthers took a narrow two-point lead, 24-22, into the locker room. Defense was controlling the tempo of the game as turnovers and a lack of open looks at the basket was leading up to a first-team-to-40-points type of contest.

The third quarter did bring an end to the defensive battle as neither team managed to score until a minute and a half into the period. Barr would finally break the stalemate, only to tie the matchup at 24 points each. A succession of steals would ensue before Rambo drew a shooting foul and made both shots from the free-throw line to retake the lead. With a little under five minutes left in the third quarter, Barr would make two freethrow shots of her own to tie-up the championship game once again. The teams would continue to go back and forth, but with Cedarville up by a single basket with less than two minutes to play before the final period, Pickford’s shooters came alive. Taylor Thurmes and Rambo would hit two three-pointers on back-to-back possessions to regain their advantage, 34-30, as the buzzer signaled the end of the quarter.

Picking up with six minutes to play in the district finals, Rambo would give her team a boost with five straight points, including another three-pointer. The Panthers had pushed the lead to more than two possessions for the first time on the night, 39-32, and in a game where scoring was coming at a premium, this turned out to be more than Cedarville could overcome. The Trojans would, however, not give up as they fought their way back to a twopoint deficit, 42-40, with a minute left. Barr tried her best to will the squad to victory, but Rambo and Taylor Thurmes would both hit two free throws to seal the deal. Thurmes was fouled twice in the final 25 seconds, but could not get both shots to fall either time.

Afterward, she said the experience of standing on the free-throw line as Cedarville students screamed and yelped was terrible. After missing the first shot both times, she recovered to grab two points the Panthers desperately needed to escape with the title. Cedarville’s final opportunity to tie the game up and take it into overtime was foiled after another turnover. Pickford won 46-43 after a long final minute of basketball.

The Pickford Panthers received their medals in front of a raucous home crowd.

Trojans Coach Ryan Wilson said, “I’m so proud of my kids… they played hard for 32 minutes, and as a coach, that’s all you can ask for.”

He hopes to be back here again next year against his conference rivals.

Coach Greg Wright of Pickford commended the performance by both teams, pointing out how tough the Trojans played, but said he could not be happier for his Pickford team.

“They showed lots of guts and determination and made [three-pointers] at a good time… this says a lot about our team to win a game like this” after playing a tough matchup the night before, he said.

Cedarville finished the season with a 13-9 record, Pickford moves on to the regional semifinals against Hillman at 6 p.m. Tuesday, March 7, in Pellston.

Statistics:

Pickford: Kayla Rambo 19 points, Taylor Opolka 14 points, Taylor Thurmes eight points, and Darcy Bennin five points.

Cedarville: Elissa Griffin 15 points, Mackenzie Barr 14 points, Hannah Perkins four points, Lily Freel two points, Emma Bohn two points, Kylie Hill two points, Gina Augugliaro two points, and Nadijah Nye two points.

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