Country Christian's march through an exceedingly challenging preseason girl's basketball schedule continued Dec. 6 with a 41-38 win over Class 2A's fourth-ranked squad, Gervais.
It was, to be sure, a tussle from beginning to end, but the Cougars used a big first quarter to get the lead and then held on as Gervais came roaring back. It was the kind of test that coach Russell Halverson is excited for his squad to undergo.
"Gervais is super long and athletic," Halverson said. "They graduated quite a bit from last year, but he had a ton of kids out and a real good bench and JV kids, so to me he's completely reloaded."
Fortunately, Halverson's squad has a "loaded" factor working as well and they showed it early, hitting shots all over the court to build a 19-6 first quarter advantage.
"From there, it felt like the rest of the game we were just hanging on," he said. "From an energy perspective, we are not where we need to be and not quite in the shape we want to be in."
Gervais plays a high-pressure defensive game and looks to attack on the offensive end, a style that will play havoc with teams' legs as the game wears on.
"I felt our kids did just enough," Halverson said. "The second quarter we let them get back in it. It was interesting in the third quarter in that we came through it and were up by five at the end of the quarter. I felt like we traded punches the whole time."
Late in the fourth quarter there was a key exchange that helped Country Christian reestablish a foothold in the game. Gervais got to within one point and made a defensive stop.
"They ran an in-bounds play that worked, but his kid missed the lay-in," Halverson said.
From there, Lannie Barden nailed a three-pointer to give Country Christian a little separation, then watched teammates Elizabeth Grandle and Annie Bafford hit a combined 4-of-5 from the free throw line to keep Gervais at bay.
"We dug deep in the fourth quarter and played well," Halverson said. "We did get outmuscled some and that led to extra possessions for them and points. If we had been a little stronger on our boards, we could have gotten some separation in the fourth."
Grandle led the offensive effort with 12 points, followed by Barden with 11, Bafford with 10 and McKenzie Syphard with eight.
"That's a big one," Halverson said. "If you'd told me that after those two games, we'd be 2-0, I'd be pretty happy."
Country Christian 57, Central Linn 49
The Cougars kept the good times rolling with a 57-49 win over Central Linn, the second-ranked team in Class 2A, by a 57-49 count on Dec. 9.
When their preseason is over, the Cougars will have played the Nos. 1, 2 and 4 ranked teams in Class 2A. So, that's two down and one more to go (No. 1 Salem Academy on Dec. 20).
And Country Christian's coach sees plenty of improvement coming down the aisle for his squad.
"I feel like we've only had about a quarter-and-a-half where we've played to our full potential," Halverson said. "With foul trouble, endurance and sickness, we've had to overcome some hurdles. We played this one with two of our best players sitting most of the first half with foul trouble.
"As we get these things sorted out and as our bench develops, our upward trend could be substantially better," Halverson added. "If we put it all together for a full game, this could be one of the best teams I've ever had."
Fortunately, as foul trouble plagued the Cougars early, Annie Bafford was, quite literally, on fire. She would shoot 5-of-7 from the three-point line, record 24 points overall, chipped in with 10 rebounds, two blocks and two steals.
"Annie was unreal," Halverson said. "We went a little deeper on the bench last night, so we had some learning things going on."
Elizabeth Grandle was one of those in foul trouble early, but still scored 11 points and dished five assists. McKenzie Syphard chipped in 11 points and five rebounds and shot 5-of-7 from the floor. Lanie Barden added nine points to the effort.
"Lizzie had a little off game and she and Lanie didn't get much playing time in the first half due to fouls, but responded in the second half," Halverson said. "Evelyn (Krieck) is playing like a starter off the bench for us. She's just been a beast."
Country Christian, despite the foul trouble, ran out to an early 11-point lead and held on for a nine-point halftime advantage.
"I got to play everyone in the third quarter and things started really clicking and we built the lead and built the lead and were up by 21 in the third," Halverson said. "That's when our conditioning legs started to give in."
Central Linn, sensing fatigue from the Cougars, upped the pressure and, to a certain degree, it paid dividends, though they never seriously threatened in the final stanza.
"I'm encouraged by how we are playing," Halverson said.
The Cougars continue their season with a league match-up against Life Christian on Dec. 16, then face-off with top-ranked Salem Academy on Dec. 20 on the road.
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