McARTHUR – Thursday night’s Tri Valley Conference Ohio Division instant classic perhaps marks a changing of the guard in the TVC. Nearly half of Vinton County’s roster was in junior high the last time Alexander dropped a league game, but Thursday’s thriller saw Coach Jeremy Ward’s young, talented Lady Vikings find a way to hang on in overtime winning 57-53 to remain perfect at 8-0.
“The bottom line is we needed to beat Alexander head-to-head to get over the hump,” said Coach Ward while complimenting an Alexander program that although lost some key pieces to graduation a year ago, still stands as the two-time conference champion and a final four participate a year ago. “They have had a great run here in recent years and hopefully this will give our girls some confidence as we move forward.”
Alexander owned the tempo and the lead for much of the first half. The Lady Spartans led 11-9 at the end of one thanks to a Morgan Grinstead three-pointer that beat the buzzer, and then headed to the half leading 23-22. Despite the one-point Alexander advantage, it was Vinton County that went to the intermission with a little momentum, because once the Spartans got an old-fashioned three from Whitney Smith and two field goals from Kaitlyn Guthrie it was VC’s Casey Puckett and Tori Dixon dialing up a pair of triples to allow the Vikings to hang close at the half.
“The amazing thing is that Alexander never really pressed us at all, and we still turned it over more than we have in any game this year,” said Coach Ward in response to his team’s season-high 21 turnovers, nine of which came in the first quarter. “A lot of that has to do with how physical they play ball screens and cutters. They do a great job in the scrimmage area and it really took us out of our offense in the early part of the game. Once we settled down, we started getting the shots we wanted from the people we wanted, and we were able to shoot a decent percentage.”
In the third quarter, Vinton County’s Rebecca Puckett took the game over. The sophomore post presence scored nine of her game-high 20 points and grabbed five of her game-high 12 rebounds in the third period. Vinton County opened up a 33-25 lead about midway through the period, and for the first time on the night, it appeared that VC would take control; however, Alexander would finish the third and start the fourth with a four-minute spurt that saw the red and black connect on five three-point field goals from four different people. By the time the triples stopped falling, Alexander had taken a 46-43 lead and after Lauren Raines slashed to the rim for a lay-up, a foul, and the free throw, the Alexander lead stretched to 49-43.
Now it was Vinton County’s turn to comeback. Dixon, who finished with 18 points including three triples, first knocked down a three-pointer to cut the lead in half at 49-46, and then Casey Puckett drained a jumper to draw the Vikings within one at 49-48. Alexander’s Guthrie responded with a jumper of her own to return the Alexander lead to three at 51-48 leaving Coach Ward one last chance to draw up a three-pointer to force overtime.
Out of the huddle, VC ran Dixon off a series of screens. Alexander did a great job jumping out and contesting the sharp shooting sophomore, but Dixon showed great poise accepting the double team as she swung the ball to fellow sophomore Casey Puckett. Puckett delivered a three from the right wing to tie the game at 51 forcing an extra four minutes. Puckett scored only eight points on the evening, but did account for the final five VC points in regulation.
In the extra session, Raines and Dixon took turns connecting on one of two from the line before Dixon returned to the charity stripe to make a couple more. With VC leading 54-52, Rebecca Puckett delivered the final knockout punch with a drive and score putting VC up two possessions – an advantage that eventually led to the 57-53 victory.
“Our effort was phenomenal tonight,” said Alexander head coach Denton Guthrie. “This is just one league game. We still have a long way to go, and I think we are starting to show some signs of getting better. We have played a tough schedule that includes several unbeaten and one-loss teams, and I think that is going to pay off for us in the long run.”
The loss drops Alexander to 3-5 overall but to just 2-1 in the TVC. The Spartans were led by junior Whitney Smith with 17 points and nine rebounds while Grinstead and Guthrie scored 13 and 10, respectively. Raines also reached double figures by scoring 10 points while the junior also recorded one of the better all around games of the evening with eight assists, seven steals, and four rebounds.
Both teams will return to action next Friday at the Logan. Vinton County will play Fairfield Union while Alexander will take on Little Miami.
In other action around the southeast, it was Huntington staying unbeaten with a 51-44 win over McDermott Northwest. Unioto beat Washington Court House 49-38, Logan Elm beat Zane Trace 52-36, and Paint Valley edged Portsmouth Notre Dame 32-29.
The Pike County Holiday Tournament at Waverly High School also crowned Western as the county champion as the Lady Indians defeated Piketon 52-48 and in the Southern Hills League it was Whiteoak beating Leesburg Fairfield 43-35.