By Josh Brown
TROY — Troy Christian knew exactly what it was facing in Middletown Christian’s Aubriana Bellard.
And they couldn’t wait.
The Eagles held the Metro Buckeye Conference scoring and rebounds leader 12 points below her average while beginning the game on a 10-0 run themselves, spurring the Troy Christian girls basketball team to a 57-32 victory to help it keep pace atop the league standings with Miami Valley Thursday night at the Eagles’ Nest.
Bellard entered the game averaging 27.2 points and 12.4 rebounds per game, both tops in the MBC. But that didn’t deter Troy Christian (9-2, 4-0 MBC).
“She’s the leader in everything this year,” Troy Christian coach Tony Ferraro said. “She leads the league in points, rebounds and steals. We had really scouted her, and we were really impressed with how good a player she is — and she proved it today, too. Really drives to the basket well, has a good outside shot. And she’s only a junior and is only going to get better. She’s one of the best players in our league right now.”
And while Bellard still played strong and finished with a double-double, she was held below her averages with 16 points and 10 rebounds — and was one of only two Middletown Christian players to score in the game.
“There’s no doubt about it — she competes. She does a lot of things really, really well. But our girls compete, too,” Ferraro said. “They took it on as a personal challenge. We’ve been practicing against her all week, and the kids knew what to expect.”
Middletown Christian (6-5, 0-4 MBC) didn’t expect the game to begin the way it did.
Kenley Blake raced to the basket for a fast-break layup off the opening tip, then a steal and layup by Cara Salazar quickly made it 4-0. Another defensive stop led to a bucket in the paint by Hailey Peters — who had a double-double of her own in the game — then Blake converted a steal with a layup. Lauryn Lavy added one more steal and dished to Kathryn Lee for a score on the break to make it a 10-0 game before Middletown Christian’s Kayla Arington scored on her own putback to end the run.
But the damage was done, and it continued to add up as the Eagles forced eight first-quarter turnovers and took a 17-6 lead after one.
“We did a real good job with our press early in that first quarter,” Ferraro said. “If we didn’t get in foul trouble, I think we would’ve stayed with it. But needless to say, when we got in some foul trouble, we had to go back to half-court. But jumping on them 10-0 was because we were very aggressive in our press.
“We have two or three different presses we run, and we ran all of them at them. I thought we executed pretty well.”
Blake was a big part of that, too, finishing the game with a team-high five steals and scoring 14 points — most in transition off of steals in the press.
“The biggest thing with Kenley is she plays the other team’s best offensive player, and yet she gets out on the fast break — and she can really run the floor,” Ferraro said. “He speed is incredible. She needs a lot of rest because she’s going 100 miles per hour, but it doesn’t take her much time on the bench to get her back into the game.”
But with the Eagles forced to play a half-court game, Peters and Lee took matters over in the paint.
Peters scored six of her game-high 18 points in the second quarter and controlled the boards, nearly posting a double-double by halftime with seven first-half rebounds. She scored a third-chance putback on the second quarter’s first possession, but Middletown Christian fought back. Bellard hit a pair of free throws and Arington hit one of her four 3s on the game to cut the Eagles’ lead to 19-11 … but eight points would be as close as the game got.
Peters took in a steal for a layup, Bellard answered with a drive but Blake hit a jumper to make it it 23-13. Bellard scored again to cut the lead to eight, but Lee scored in the paint and Jalyn Forrer found Peters open inside for one more bucket to make the score 27-15 at the break.
The Eagles built a lead as big as 18 in the third quarter at 35-17 after a pair of free throws by Peters, but another late 3 by Arington helped cut the deficit to 40-26 heading into the fourth. After an Arington 3 cut the lead to 15 at 47-32 with roughly three minutes to play, Troy Christian closed the game on a 10-0 run to seal it.
Peters finished with 18 points and 13 rebounds, Blake added 14 points and Lee narrowly missed a double-double with eight points and 11 rebounds as Troy Christian outrebounded Middletown Christian 39-28 in the game.
“One of the biggest keys with Kathryn is her finding out about her ability to be in certain places on the floor,” Ferraro said. “She’s learning different places to look for in our offense. Hailey and Kathryn both did a great job on the boards.”
Salazar also finished with eight points and four rebounds, Lavy and Sarah Earhart each scored four points and Forrer scored one point.
Bellard had 16 points and 10 rebounds and Arington had 16 points for Middletown Christian. with Jada Long adding seven rebounds.
Troy Christian travels to Springfield Catholic Central on Tuesday.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.
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