By Josh Brown
BRANDT — With Miami East’s girls basketball team coming in on an eight-game winning streak and having just beaten three-time defending Cross County Conference champion Tri-Village on the road a week ago, one might have thought that the Vikings would roll to a ninth straight win.
Miami East coach Bruce Vanover knew better.
“Every time we’ve played them the last four years … we’ve won by 11, last year was a three- or four-point game … there’s just something about that game,” he said. “It’s a good rivalry. This was exactly what I told everybody this game would be like — a battle.”
In the end, the Vikings’ hot start proved to be the difference as they scored the first 11 points of the game and then held off a young and scrappy Bees team to close out a 43-33 victory Thursday night at Bethel to win their ninth straight and remain undefeated in CCC play.
And while Miami East improved to 13-3 and 8-0 in the CCC, knowing that it controls its own destiny in the league title race, that didn’t change anything about the Vikings’ approach Thursday night.
“No, that’s the one thing we are not doing — we are not taking anybody lightly,” Vanover said. “We prepared for Bethel just like we prepared for Tri-Village, just like we prepared for Fort Loramie and Tipp. We always say ‘respect all, fear none.’ Everybody puts the work in in the gym, and we want to give them that respect.”
Of course, being in control of the league brings other challenges — like a big target on the back.
“It might be harder for us because everybody is trying to knock us off,” Vanover said. “I’m sure it’s good motivation — ‘hey, we can go knock them off the top of the CCC.’ Would I use it as a coach? Most definitely. Bethel’s coaches had their kids playing hard, and to be playing hard is the key. Once you’re playing hard, everything else takes care of itself.”
And even after the Vikings jumped out to an 11-0 lead to start the game, the Bees (2-7, 2-5 CCC) kept playing hard.
“I feel really good about (how the girls competed),” Bethel coach Corey Steinke said. “We never gave up. We started out in an 11-0 hole to begin the game — and that was the game right there. when you have to fight your way back from such a deficit, it’s hard. But I thought we competed hard. I can never fault my girls for competing — it’s something they do on a daily basis.”
The Vikings hit three 3-pointers during that opening run, with Kaitlyn Mack, Morgan Haney and Bailey Miller each drilling one from long range before a bucket by Klaudia Lowery inside finally got Bethel on the board. The Vikings held a 15-6 lead after the first quarter, and Miller hit another 3 to start the second quarter to give East an 18-6 lead — but not only was that as big as the lead would get, that was also the final 3 that the Vikings would hit in the game.
After its hot start, Miami East shot 29 percent from the field in the game, including going 4 for 20 from 3-point range.
“Probably our lowest shooting percentage of the year,” Vanover said. “They (Bethel) just create havoc on defense. That made me a little nervous coming in. They’re always hustling, getting their hands in the passing lanes and trying to make things difficult on you. They’re forcing us to do things in a hurry, and we didn’t do a good job on our end of settling down. We were in a hurry to shoot a lot tonight.
“We took 58 shots tonight. We put up 65 the other night and only put up 47 shots. And obviously 4 for 20 from 3-point land, we definitely weren’t that in our last game.”
Bethel’s Alaina Hawthorn hit a shot before halftime to cut the deficit at the break to 21-14, and the Bees continued to chip away at East’s lead in the third quarter. After a Viking free throw, Lowery scored on a drive, Delaney Hardert split a pair of defenders and hit a jumper and Hawthorn hit a free throw to cut the lead to only three at 22-19 with 3:42 left in the quarter.
But Camryn Miller hit a jumper, Haney cashed in a steal with a fast-break layup and Haley Howard scored inside to rebuild the lead to nine, and the Bees trailed 28-21 after three. From there, the Vikings’ lead remained between eight and 11 points the rest of the way.
Haney, who was held to seven points in the first half, finished with a game-high 13 points and added a game-high 16 rebounds and five assists as the Vikings outrebounded the Bees 45-37. Camryn Miller added nine points and six rebounds, Bailey Miller had seven points, Howard — who was held scoreless in the first half — had five points and eight rebounds, Mack had five points and seven rebounds and Mikayla Schaffner had two points.
“They forced us to take some long shots, and we weren’t hitting,” Vanover said. “But we got some support from lots of people tonight.”
“We held two really good scorers down in the first half,” Steinke said. “Morgan had a couple shots here and there, but I thought we did a pretty good job of containing her. I think we played solid defense, and we’re taking pride in that.”
Hawthorn came off the bench to lead the Bees with 10 points and added six rebounds, Kenna Gray added eight points and Olivia Reittinger had seven points. Lowery finished with four points and a team-high 14 rebounds and Hardert added four points.
“We start three freshmen, and at times we play five freshmen playing varsity games. we’re very young,” Steinke said. “That’s only going to make us better in the end. We did hustle, and we take pride in that.”
Miami East is off until Thursday when it hosts Covington in another big CCC matchup. Bethel, meanwhile, begins a busy stretch of 13 games in 18 days with a road game at Dayton Christian Saturday.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.