By Josh Brown
CASSTOWN — Three times in the fourth quarter, Covington’s Sammi Whiteman stole the ball, leading to baskets the other way.
Each time, though, Miami East would answer with either a drive by Morgan Haney or a putback by Haley Howard or Kyndall Hellyer.
In the end, a 10-0 run by the Vikings in the second quarter proved to be the difference as they had the answer for every clutch play the Buccaneers made down the stretch, with Miami East holding on for a 65-53 Cross County Conference victory Thursday night at Miami East.
“We tell the girls all the time, basketball is a game of runs,” Miami East coach Bruce Vanover said. “You’ve got to be able to withstand them. In the third, they were outscoring us by six in the quarter, but we hit three quick buckets to get even. You can’t let every single thing that happens during a game get you down and keep you there.”
That was especially true for the freshman point guard Haney in her matchup against fellow freshman Whiteman. With the Vikings (11-7, 8-2 CCC) up 44-32 going into the fourth, Whiteman kicked off the quarter with a steal-and-layup — which would become a trend — then Jessie Crowell converted another turnover to close the gap to eight. Undeterred, Haney broke the full-court press, drove the lane and dumped to a wide-open Haley Howard for a layup to put a brief end to the momentum.
Another steal-and-layup by Whiteman later got the Buccaneers (11-6, 7-2 CCC) to within seven at 48-41, but Haney answered with a jumper, then she stole the ball and converted a three-point play to make it 53-41 East midway through the fourth.
“Morgan and Sammi, they’re both just nice players,” Vanover said. “They were kind of battling it out there at the end. But Morgan showed how she’s grown as a basketball player. She got her pocket picked on one play, but she came right back and either scored herself or got an assist. She didn’t let anything keep her down.”
That back and forth continued until a pair of Brooke Gostomsky free throws cut the Vikings’ lead to six at 57-51. A putback by Hellyer in transition pushed the lead back to eight, but yet another steal by Whiteman led to another layup by the freshman to make it 59-53. On the ensuing possession, Haney hit one free throw, Hellyer got the offensive rebound on the second and Haney hit one more free throw to make it an eight-point game with 30 seconds left.
After an empty possession by the Buccs, the Vikings missed a pair of free throws — but Howard scored a putback on the second one to effectively put the game out of reach.
Haney scored seven of her game-high 24 points and had three of her five assists in the fourth quarter, while Whiteman had 10 of her team-high 17 points and had four steals in the final eight minutes.
“We told Sammie she was ready. She’s definitely not a freshman anymore at this point,” Covington coach Craig Maschino said. “She got off to a slow start, we all did, but I thought she played a pretty good game.”
The Buccs did begin the game slow as a team, going 0 for their first 12 from the field. The Vikings capitalized with a 9-0 run — but Covington finished the opening quarter with a 7-0 run in the final minute to draw to within 9-7.
But the Vikings hit four 3s in the second quarter, with Haney and Bailey Miller each hitting a pair, breaking open what had at one point been a 13-13 game. Covington was still close, down 19-17, but a 10-0 run by the Vikings and a layup by Haney at the buzzer made it 31-19 Miami East at the break — and that margin held all the way to the end.
“The second quarter was the difference in the game,” Maschino said. “We started out slow, came out cold from the field — but our defensive performance in the first quarter was pretty solid and we went on a 7-0 run at the end of it to make it a one-bucket game. But when we started scoring in the second quarter, we became flat on the defensive end and started giving up second and third opportunities. A good team like Miami East is going to convert those.”
The fast pace of the game meant plenty of missed shots, too, as the Vikings went 26 for 65 and the Buccs went 21 for 70. East won the battle of the boards 54-41, with eight of those rebounds leading directly to putbacks. Howard led the way in that respect with 17 points and 18 rebounds, while Hellyer had 15 rebounds to go with six points and four assists.
“Kyndall, we say she’s a seven-and-seven kid. She’ll get you seven points and seven rebounds every night. But then she has nights like this,” Vanover said. “She goes out and grabs 15 rebounds and is just a beast on the boards. And Haley, she’s just in the right place at the right time. She reads the ball in the air, she’ll tip it back to herself, she’ll do whatever it takes. To get more than 30 rebounds between the two of them, that’s just impressive.”
Gostomsky had more than half of the Buccs’ rebounds on her own. The senior single-handedly fought back in the rebounding battle, pulling in a game-high 21 of them to go with her 16 points. No other Buccaneer had more than five.
“That’s just a great example of how hard Brooke has been playing for us,” Maschino said. “She’s making the most of her senior year and playing her tail off. She’s only 5-foot-9, so for her to go up against two 6-footers and grab 21 rebounds, that just shows that she wants it more than anyone else.”
Miller finished the game with eight points for the Vikings, Megan Thompson had four points and four assists, Megan Kinnison had four points and five rebounds and Amber Kinnison chipped in two points.
Jessie Crowell had six of her nine points in the fourth quarter before going down with an injury. Carly Shell added five points and Arianna Richards, Jordan Crowell and Rayna Horner each had two points.
It was the second meeting this season between the team. The Vikings defeated the Buccaneers 60-46 on Dec. 20 in the title game of the Barnball Classic Tournament, also at Miami East.
Both teams are back in action Saturday, with Miami East traveling to Fort Loramie and Covington hosting National Trail.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.