GRANGER TWP. — Crunch time was all about the master plan, and coach Andy Gopp firmly believes the six freshmen who saw action for his Highland girls basketball team Wednesday will win every time in 2018-19, 2019-20 and 2020-21 because of it.
That wasn’t the case in the present, however, as the extremely young Hornets nearly pulled off a win under desperate circumstances before falling to almost-as-young Tallmadge 34-33 in Suburban League American Conference play.
Down 34-32 without possession at the 25-second mark, Highland (9-11, 3-8) still had two chances to tie or take the lead despite not making a field goal in the fourth quarter. The last gasp saw freshman Kendall McCormick drive down the left side of the key and get stripped while trying to power up a layup, but the whistle never blew and the ball was flung to the baseline as time expired.
“They were in situations as freshmen that they haven’t been in before,” said Gopp, whose squad played only its third game decided by five points or fewer. “I just want to help them get better each game and each year in that situation.”
The Blue Devils, who had five sophomores in their eight-player rotation, broke a 32-all tie when speedy guard Lizzie Bickar (game-high 16 points, 9 steals) connected inside with about two minutes left. Highland then elected to run clock because Gopp wanted to virtually guarantee his youngsters could face a legitimate final-minute scenario.
McCormick (9 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists) finally hoisted a contested 3-pointer with 36 seconds to go and Tallmadge got the rebound. The Hornets only had two fouls and eventually reached six before senior Emily Lyon (7 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists) took a calculated gamble, picked off a lollipop inbounds pass — it was only Tallmadge’s fifth turnover — and was fouled while driving to the rim.
Lyon made 1-of-2 free throws with 21.9 seconds left, and Bickar failed to connect on a one-and-one. Hannah Zuro (5 points, 7 rebounds) grabbed the rebound and Highland moved the ball across half court before calling timeout with 7.8 seconds remaining.
McCormick received a pass at the top of the 3-point arc with the intention of driving left for a layup or kicking for a corner three. She chose the former and had an angle before being stripped on the block.
Everyone in attendance would agree it was just one of many no-calls on the night.
“In that situation being freshmen, I wanted to see what we could learn in that environment by holding the ball for one shot,” Gopp said. “They also learned how to give fouls when they had to under pressure, so that was good.”
The game was close throughout, as both teams utilized basic 2-3 zones, with the Hornets guarding the 3-point line and Tallmadge daring Highland to shoot. Bickar scored nine first-quarter points because the Hornets defended the baseline poorly, while McCormick and fellow freshman Danielle Schlairet combined to make 5-of-13 3-pointers.
The Blue Devils appeared to be taking control with a 26-20 lead in the third quarter, but Highland countered with an 8-0 run using ninth-graders McCormick, Schlairet, Tess Myers, Brooke Stuart and Alexis Furyes. The teams then traded a myriad of mistakes in the fourth, making 2-of-12 shots and committing eight turnovers before the final 20 seconds.
Though the Hornets fell short, Gopp felt there was progress considering Tallmadge won the first meeting 54-36 on Jan. 3. Highland never had a chance in that one, falling behind 19-6 and 37-11, but the situation was drastically different this time around due partly to a whopping 40-12 rebounding advantage.
The next step is finishing.
“We’ve got to be more aggressive,” Gopp said. “I thought we got a little around-the-horn happy. We need to attack gaps and get inside more.”
Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tallmadge 34, Highland 33
TALLMADGE 14 8 7 5 — 34
HIGHLAND 11 9 10 3 — 33
Tallmadge — Jordyn Severns 2-0-5, Andreanna Gotto 0-0-0, Alex Perrin 0-0-0, Lizzie Bickar 7-1-16, Sarah Johnson 3-0-8, Jillian Catalano 0-0-0, Kenna Loveless 1-0-3, Katie Hussing 1-0-2. TOTALS: 14-1-34.
Highland — Jenna Parker 0-0-0, Hannah Zuro 2-0-5, Colleen Flannery 0-0-0, Kendall McCormick 3-0-9, Emily Lyon 2-3-7, Danielle Schlairet 2-0-6, Brooke Stuart 1-0-2, Alexis Furyes 2-0-4, Tess Myers 0-0-0. TOTALS: 12-3-33.
3-point goals — Johnson 2, Severns, Bickar, Loveless, McCormick 3, Schlairet 2, Zuro. Rebounds — Tallmadge 12 (Johnson, Severns 3), Highland 40 (Zuro 7). Assists — Tallmadge 5 (Gotto 2), Highland 7 (McCormick, Lyon 3). Records — Tallmadge (10-10, 6-5), Highland (9-11, 3-8). Junior varsity — Highland 36, Tallmadge 12.