By Josh Brown
CASSTOWN — The Tippecanoe girls basketball team jumped right into the fire this season, opening on the road against a quality Miami East team already with two games under its belt.
The Vikings, meanwhile, were playing for the third time in six days against a Red Devil squad that was ready to go and with lots to prove this season.
In the end, Tippecanoe was able to grab control early on and then hold off numerous rally attempts by the Vikings, turning a three-point game with 2:48 to play into a 45-35 victory Wednesday at Miami East High School in a battle between county rivals.
The Red Devils (1-0), who have now won the last three meetings with the Vikings, averaged almost 53 points per game last season and return four of those five starters. And the fifth starter is senior transfer Madison Frederick, who has already won a state title in Arizona and has committed to play Division I college basketball at Iowa State. And though it took them a while to get going, the Devils showed flashes of what they are capable of throughout.
“I thought we struggled a bit on the offensive end,” Tippecanoe coach Andy Holderman said. “First-game jitters, I hope that’s what it was. I thought we were pretty stagnant for a while. We were weren’t getting much movement, which created a whole lot of nothing for a while. But we kind of bounced back, and defensively I felt like we did a nice job. We’re just hoping to get this first game out of the way and keep getting ourselves better.”
Tippecanoe’s struggles offensively can be credited to the defensive effort by Miami East (2-1), though, as the Vikings harassed the Devils’ primary weapons throughout and earned a slight advantage in the turnover battle, 14 to 13. But a lot of Tippecanoe’s success came in transition, either off of East’s turnovers or by beating the Vikings back after giving up a basket on defense and answering.
“This was our third game in the last six days, and I think the girls are a little weary right now,” Miami East coach Bruce Vanover said. “That’s a lot of basketball, and Tippecanoe is a good basketball team. Still, I thought the girls did a nice job of responding and battling back. I felt like we came out and competed well tonight, and I’m proud of the girls for that.”
Frederick led all scorers in her debut with 13 points and added five rebounds and three assists. Nine of those points came in the first half as she helped Tippecanoe maintain control early. Senior Allison Mader then scored nine of her 12 points in the second half, including a back-breaking 3-pointer with under two minutes to play after the Vikings had closed the gap to three points.
“We did (play well together). It’s a process, definitely,” Holderman said when asked how well the team is gelling. “Making the extra pass or not getting caught up in the heat of the moment when defenses get you sped up and making you play quicker than you want to play. There at the end, we did a nice job of finishing and took care of business.”
The Vikings have already had a chance to gel together, though, with the return of junior point guard Morgan Haney. Haney — who averaged 28.5 points in the Vikings’ first two games this season — led East with 12 points and five assists, while Haley Howard helped in the post with eight points and five rebounds.
“She came out and competed as well as anyone on the floor,” Vanover said of Haney. “Defensively, having to guard Tipp, you’re going to use a lot of energy. That takes a lot out of you. But I felt like she did a good job, both on offense and defense.
“We gave up a bit of size — Tipp is taller than I thought they’d be. And we just didn’t get on the boards like we did in our first two games.”
Early on, it was Tippecanoe senior Claire Hinkle that helped the Devils grab control. With the score tied 4-4 in the opening quarter, she knocked down a jumper to make it 6-4 and then scored on a drive to make it a four-point game and kick off an 8-0 run by the Devils. Hinkle then assisted on a Brooke Aselage jumper in transition after a steal, then Frederick canned a jumper to make it a 12-4 game before the Vikings’ Mikayla Schaffner scored to end the run, but Tippecanoe still held a 14-10 lead after one.
Mader and Frederick kicked off the second quarter with back-to-back fast-break buckets to make it 18-10, but the Viking defense held the Devils in check the rest of the quarter, and later on a steal by Kaitlyn Mack led to a 3 by Haney in transition to cut the lead to 20-17, which was where things remained at the half.
“We left a lot of opportunities on the floor with missed layups,” Holderman said. “The missed layups and communication on defense where we gave them easy baskets, if you take those things away, that’s where we can separate ourselves.”
Each time Tippecanoe threatened to pull away, though, the Vikings came back.
The Devils led by as many as nine in the third after a late 3 by Hinkle, but a jumper by senior Anna Jacomet cut the lead to 30-23 heading into the fourth. And Jacomet kicked off the final quarter with a 3-pointer that got the Vikings back to within four at 30-26, which is roughly where things remained until the closing minutes.
“For Anna, basically playing her first year of varsity, to come in and hit big shots like that was huge,” Vanover said. “It shows that she believes in herself to take those shots in those moments, and it shows that her teammates have confidence in her because they’re getting her the ball.”
A 3 by Haney pulled the Vikings to within three at 36-33 with 2:48 to play, but that’s as close as East would get. Frederick dished to Mader for a big 3 with 1:55 on the clock to extend the lead to six again, and a pair of Haney free throws made it 39-35 with 1:22 remaining. But from there, East was forced to foul, and Mader, Frederick and Hinkle each sank a pair of free throws to close out the game.
Hinkle finished with nine points and five rebounds for Tippecanoe, Stewart had six points and five rebounds and Aselage had five points.
For the Vikings, Jacomet had five points, Maria Staton had four points, Mack had two points and a team-high five rebounds and Bailey Miller and Schaffner each had two points.
“Going in, if you told me that we’d be within 39-35 in the last two minutes … the girls executed our gameplan really well. We just didn’t make enough shots,” Vanover said. “In our first two games we shot about 50 percent from the field, and tonight we were about 30 percent. But this team is building great chemistry and confidence in each other right now, and that’s only going to continue throughout the season. I’m really excited about this group.”
Miami East faced Tri-County North Thursday night, while Tippecanoe will host Fairmont — which it lost last year’s season opener to — on Saturday.
“Miami East is a quality program that has some nice players,” Holderman said. “To open up is a little bit crazy. They’re on game No. 3 now — but it’s always a good rivalry, and they’re a good, solid fundamental team, and it’s good to get to play against them. Every year, the first game is kind of like this. Last year, we lost by 10 to Fairmont. So we’re glad to get this one out of the way, and now we’ll learn from here.”
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.