By Josh Brown
BRANDT — Miami East only shot the ball well for one brief stretch.
It made all the difference.
The Viking girls basketball team closed the first half on a 7-0 run, followed by a 12-1 spurt to start the third quarter. And though the scrappy rival Bees remained close throughout, that stretch proved to be enough for Miami East to hold onto in a 44-33 Cross County Conference victory Thursday at Bethel.
“At the end of this game, it was (the difference),” Miami East coach Bruce Vanover said. “The last 1:30 of the first half, we got some steals and hit some layups in transition, went on a 7-0 run. That started a 19-1 one. That made the difference.”
The Vikings (9-6, 6-2 CCC) were coming off a tough loss at conference leader Tri-Village — a game in which they led most of the way. But Thursday’s game got off to a rocky start as East went 4 for its first 23 from the field.
“We just had a tough time putting the ball in the hole,” Vanover said. “We talked to the girls, told them that we weren’t going to go into every game and shoot like we did at Tri-Village. But coming here on this smaller floor, they (Bethel) really slowed the game down an took us out of what we like to do, which is to get up and down the floor in transition.”
The Bees (5-10, 3-3 CCC), meanwhile, were hungry after six straight losses. And with the Vikings not shooting well early, Bethel claimed a large advantage on the glass, limiting them to one shot per trip while earning plenty of second chances itself.
Bethel just couldn’t cash in on enough of them, and East took a 13-8 lead after one quarter.
“We’ve been talking all year. Defensively, we’re not bad,” Bethel coach Mark Mays said. “Other parts of our game, though, we need to improve on. Tonight, I thought we did. We improved on our free throw shooting, our shooting from the field, and our confidence just went through the roof.
“Against a quality opponent, this was probably our best game of the year.”
A putback by Becky Schwieterman and a steal and layup by Kayla Grable to start the second quarter cut the Vikings’ lead to one, and a free throw by Schwieterman tied the score at 13-13. East retook the lead on a free throw by Megan Kinnison and a pair of free throws by Megan Thompson, but the Bees stayed within one point at 16-15 after a pair of Tia Koewler free throws.
And that’s when the Vikings took control for good.
Morgan Haney drilled a pull-up 3 — the Vikings’ first field goal of the second quarter — with 1:26 before halftime, then a steal-and-layup by Kyndall Hellyer widened the gap to 21-15. One more transition bucket right before halftime made it 23-15 Miami East.
The Vikings stayed hot to start the third, hitting 3 of their first 4 shots from the field. Thompson sank a 3 to start the quarter, then Haney hit back-to-back jumpers after steals to make it 30-15. Schwieterman hit a free throw, but another 3 by Thompson and a jumper by Kinnison made it 35-16 before Schwieterman finally scored a bucket in the paint to put an end the the run.
“We’ve been working on getting hands in the faces of 3-point shooters and forcing them to the middle, and I think we’re getting better,” Mays said. “The 3-point shot has hurt us a lot lately. We have little spurts where we have dropoffs still, but tonight was the closest to a complete game that we’ve played all year.”
That 19-point lead was the largest the Vikings enjoyed on the night. Koewler scored to make it 37-23 heading into the fourth, then she scored again to make it a 12-point game. East maintained a double-digit lead throughout the final eight minutes, though, with the Bees only cutting the lead to 11 in the final minute.
Haney led all scorers with 14 points and added three assists and eight steals. Thompson added eight points and Hely Howard had eight points and six rebounds, and Hellyer had seven points, a team-high eight rebounds and two assists. Kinnison chipped in three points and Bailey Miller and Emily Hawkins each had two.
“The nice thing is, we’ve played such a tough stretch coming into tonight, but the girls didn’t panic. We didn’t turn the ball over. To come out of a game like this with a win, that’s huge. Now we’re 9-6 going into Russia on Saturday.”
Koewler led the Bees with eight points and four rebounds, Schwieterman added six points and four rebounds and Courtney Schmidt had six points. Emily Crase added five points and four rebounds, Delaney Hardert scored four points, Grable had two points and six rebounds and Klaudia Lowery had two points.
“There are times when we get in a hole and we dig our way out, but we spend all our energy digging out that we come up short,” Mays said. “But tonight was the closest to a complete game we’ve played. We’re still young. But we’ve got seven games left and then it’s tournament time. We’ll be competitive in all of those games down the stretch, and we’ll get Alaina (Hawthorn) back (from an injury), so that’ll help us. The sky’s the limit for these girls.”
Both teams are back in action Saturday, with Miami East facing Russia and Bethel taking on Riverside.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.