I've had this game circled on my high school basketball calender since before the season started. Judging by the way Liz Pettis and the Campbell High girls basketball team played tonight it is a safe bet that they did too.
In a rematch of last year's Class M girls title game, Campbell avenged the loss and handed Conant their first defeat of the season. Pettis had a career-high 30 points, 7 rebounds and 6 steals, and the Cougars made a statement that they are not only the a top team in Division III, but they're one of the top teams in the entire state by beating Conant 51-26 on Thursday night in Litchfield.
Here's the game's complete recap, along with video highlights and a post-game interview with Player of the Game Liz Pettis.
These were hands down the 2 best teams in D-III. They met in the title game last year with Conant winning in a close one. Both Campbell and Conant return virtually their whole teams from last year including their top 3 players. Conant was 7-0 going into tonight's contest, while Campbell was 6-1. Both teams have 1,000 point scorers with Brooke Springfield for Conant and Campbell's Kristen Hrubowchak.
Bottom line, these are supposed to be 2 very good, evenly matched teams. This was supposed to be a close, back-and-forth, intense basketball game that went down to the wire. The keyword in those sentences is "supposed." It is clear that Campbell is just flat out a better basketball team than Conant, or at least tonight they were.
That is why it was VERY surprising that Campbell won this game as convincingly as they did. They were in control from start to finish, leading by as many as 23 points.
"My hat's off to them" said a disappointed Conant head coach Nick Hill. "They played harder and were the better team."
Domination by Cougars
Campbell jumped out to a 20-5 lead in the 1st quarter, including 15 points in the quarter from Pettis. Pettis and Hrubowchak hit back-to-back three-pointers for the Cougars which made it a 20-5 lead. Springfield then laid it in off the glass to cut it to 20-7 at the end of the 1st quarter. But the damage had already been done, as Conant had 10 turnovers in the 1st quarter which resulted in a 20 point quarter for Campbell.
"Our goal every game is to keep our turnovers to under 10 for the game" said Coach Hill. "And when we don't do that we struggle."
Pettis was simply on fire, scoring the basketball in a variety of ways. She was scoring on drives, long range threes, free throws and offensive rebound put-backs. Despite her offensive onslaught, Pettis didn't force anything - all of her points came in the flow of the offense. The thing is, Campbell's offense flows pretty darn well. Conant was playing a zone, and Campbell was able to not only get open looks from long range but knock them down with consistency (especially Pettis).
"She has absolutely improved 100%" said Hill. "She has to be one of the most improved players in the state."
Campbell would increase their lead in the 2nd quarter, and went into the locker room up 29-11. Pettis had 19 of those 29 points, and also had 4 steals in the 1st half. The Cougars had 12 offensive rebounds in the 1st half. Many of their points came on second shot opportunities. Meanwhile they not only played excellent defensive which forced many Conant turnovers, but they also did an excellent job of limiting the Orioles to one shot on offense as they cleaned up the defensive boards and got to all of the loose balls.
"We won the game defensively" said an ecstatic Campbell head coach Shawn Flynn. "Brooke is the best player in the state and we held her to only 5 field goals."
Springfield is Conant's all-time leading scorer, but tonight Campbell held her to just 10 points.
"We were up 18 at the half, but Brooke scares me" said Coach Flynn. "I look over and see her there and I know she could score 18 in the 2nd half all by herself, so I knew it wasn't over yet."
To the surprise of nobody, Conant did a make a little bit of a run in the 3rd quarter to get back in the game. Springfield's sidekick Kim Daniels went on a personal 6-0 run to begin the 2nd half, and just like that the Campbell lead was down to 12, 29-17. The 5'9" senior guard Daniels would score 8 of her team-high 13 points in the 3rd quarter.
Just when Daniels was really playing well she got absolutely leveled while playing defense by a Campbell player setting a screen. Daniels had to leave the game with an injury. There was a foul on the play, and somehow the refs called DANIELS for the foul! Talk about adding insult to injury!
Right around this point in the game it was getting physical and chippy all over the floor, wit the officials letting a lot go. Bodies falling down everywhere and contact being made with no whistle. The Conant fans were very upset with this. And earlier in the game one ref actually stopped the game to give a warning to the Campbell student section for inappropriate language. It was definitely an intense, hostile environment. It was also as big a crowd as you'll see for a girls basketball game in January.
With Daniels out of the game Campbell was able to hold off the Conant rally. The Orioles wouldn't get the lead any closer than 12 the whole 2nd half. Springfield was displaying a deadly pull-up jumper, and she also made a very nice pass from just inside half court to teammate Holly Hodgman for a layup. Conant wasn't giving up. But it was too little too late, and Campbell did a nice job of staying focused and answering back any runs Conant threw at them. Hrubowchak made a very nice pass inside to junior forward Becca Arnone for a layup, making it 46-27 Campbell.
With about 5 minutes left Conant started pressing Campbell full court to try and force some turnovers and make it a game. But Campbell just kept lobbing the ball over the heads of all of the Orioles defenders, and getting easy baskets on the other end. As a result, the Cougars built the lead to 50-27, its largest lead of the game.
Why Campbell Won
*They played excellent pressure man-to-man defense which led to over 20 Conant turnovers
*They had over 15 offensive rebounds, while limiting the Orioles to one shot nearly every time
*They were on a mission tonight, and played hard and with a ton of intensity.
*They were disciplined offensively, moved the ball well and hit their shots
*Pettis was simply lights out, especially in the 1st quarter
*They did a nice job of containing Springfield, and holding her to just 10 points
These same 2 teams will meet again later in the season at Conant. They will also meet once again in the D-III title game in all likelihood. So just because Campbell dominated tonight does not mean you can hand the trophy over to them now. Still a long way to go. Nobody has ever won a championship in January. Conant could go back to the drawing board, make a couple adjustments and win the next 2 meetings between the 2 squads and win the title.
But there's no doubt you have to like Campbell's chances right now. The Cougars only played 6 kids (the Framarini sisters, Marissa and Aly, along with guard Shannon Savard were all solid in supporting roles tonight). But those 6 girls are all very good, they're a veteran group ad they have excellent team chemistry.