Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Windham Hangs On, Survives St. Thomas’ Late Comeback Bid

By: Dustin Freeman

Windham 39 St Thomas 36
All preseason, I’ve heard about the Saints 'Big Three' of Reagan Williams, Ashley Coneys, and Mariah Desmarais. I rolled into the gym and saw two of the big three and only 8 bodies warming up for the Saints, 3 of which are freshman. Immediately, I wondered if St. Thomas could score enough points to get a big win over a tough Windham team.

Early on, offense was a major issue for the Saints, as Windham plays a great man to man defense and the Saints were having trouble executing their offense. The Jaguars communication on defense was impressive, as St. Thomas is a very small and quiet gym, you could really hear how much talking Windham does. The Saints could only muster 2 points in the 1st quarter and it was mostly because of how well Windham defended.

Hannah Klaasens led Windham with 5 1st quarter points and Casey Dinga added 3, as the Jaguars held an 8-2 lead after 8 minutes. Ashley Coneys had the deuce for the Saints.

The 2nd quarter started, and the St. Thomas “Big Three” was down to 1, as Coneys reached in and committed her 2nd bad foul of the half and went to the bench. Coneys needs to be smarter with reach-in’s, as the Saints aren’t deep enough to have ANY of their 5 starters sit for extended minutes due to fouls. Luckily for the Saints, freshman Kiara Crowley came in and was a presence immediately. Crowley played some very good post defense, staying straight up and forcing several misses inside by Windham’s bigs.

Windham has a very promising young team. The 2nd quarter offense was led by juniors Hannah Klaasen and Kelsey Kendzulak, both of whom made several perimeter shots against the Saints 2-1-2/2-3 zone set up. Freshman point guard Kaleigh Walsh starts for the Jags, along with sophomores Casey Dinga and Lexi Sawyer. Dinga and Sawyer were great on the glass all game and had several strong rebounds.

Reagan Williams and Chloe Benelli played some tremendous defense in the 2nd quarter. At times it seemed as if the Saints best chance of scoring was when they did not have the ball. Williams had 4 steals in the first half (7 steals for the game) and Benelli had two steals in the first half (four for the game). Williams is so fast in the open court, that very few teams can stay with her. However she did miss a couple easy layups because she could not get on balance to finish.

Windham took a 19-10 lead into the half behind their stingy defense and shot making from the perimeter.

The 3rd quarter got Coneys back into the game and freed up the St. Thomas offense and things started to flow again. The Saints run a high post offense featuring back cuts and ball reversals. At times, the ball gets stuck in places and there is little to no movement. The key in the 2nd half was that the Saints started to make plays out of the offense and not run it like robots. In the first half they were making exactly the same passes and reads. In the 2nd half they attacked off ball reversals and got to the hoop.

Windham got very shaky with the ball in the 2nd half and that allowed St. Thomas to really chip away at the lead that Windham worked so hard to gain in the first half. With better ball movement on offense and the defensive pressure picking up, the Saints played a strong 3rd quarter, but only got the score back to 24-16 after 3.

This is where the fun began.

After a Kelsey Kendzulak basket, that made the score 26-16. St. Thomas’ freshman Chloe Benelli hit a big three from the wing. Ashley Coneys got a great steal and pass ahead to Hannah Turgeon for 2 and suddenly we had a ball game, at 26-21.

Windham needed a timeout to get back in control and focus on taking care of the basketball. A combination of bad decisions by the Jaguars and strong St. Thomas ball pressure really changed things in the second half. Williams, Coneys, and Benelli are very fast and made some strong defensive plays, getting in the Windham pass lanes.

Out of the timeout, each team traded a quick bucket and then Ashley Coneys made another strong finish at the rim. Right after Coneys’ basket, Kelsey Kendzulak finishes a strong And-1, but couldn’t complete the old fashioned 3 point play. Following the missed foul shot, St. Thomas pushed the ball hard and Hannah Turgeon hit her 2nd big time three in a critical 4th quarter stretch. Turgeon started the game 0 for 5 from 3, but finished the game making EVERYTHING it seemed. We were tied at 33.

A key jump shot for the Jaguars pushed the lead back to 35-33 and Ashley Coneys matched with 2 FT’s on the other end to tie us up at 35 all. Freshman Kaleigh Walsh was fouled and went to the line for 2, making 1 of 2 and putting Windham ahead 36-35.

Ashley Coneys went for a step back 3 on the next possession, the shot rimmed out, but she followed her own rebound and her put back attempt rolled in and out. Sophomore Lexi Sawyer had one of the strongest rebounds I have seen this year, as she ripped the ball out of the air with both hands and would not let go. Sawyer was fouled and made 1 of 2 and Windham’s lead went to 37-35.

St. Thomas got the ball, but turned it over without getting a shot up and the Jaguars got the ball and called a timeout immediately. They were inbounding at mid-court and drew up a play during a quick 30 second timeout. St. Thomas came out with some strong pressure D and BOOM, a steal by freshman Chloe Benelli and a quick Saints timeout with 18.1 seconds to play gave them new life.

St. Thomas drew up a strong play and got a great look at a 3, but it rimmed off and went to the far left corner where Turgeon got the rebound and launched a 3 with 4 seconds left. Wait for it, wait for it…..FOUL on Windham. 3 shots on the way for Turgeon. Turgeon missed the first, made the 2nd and the score was 37-36 with a 3rd shot to come. Another miss. A strong rebound by Amanda Carey, who then iced the game away at the line and sealed a frantic end to the game and a 39-36 win for Windham.

St. Thomas scored 20 points in the 4th quarter. They scored 16 points in the first 3 quarters.

For St. Thomas, I was very impressed with Reagan Williams defense all game long, as she has to be one of the fastest players in the State. Senior, Hannah Turgeon made some big time shots in the 4th quarter. Freshman, Chloe Benelli and Kiara Crowley stepped up in the absence of Desmarais. Junior Ashley Coneys needs to stay on the floor, as her offense and long arms on defense makes a huge difference. Senior Colleen Coffey is a glue player for this team, does some good things that might not show up on a stat sheet.

Windham is a very young squad, their rotation is made up of mostly all freshman, sophomores, and juniors. Kendzulak and Klaasens did most of the scoring for the Jags, while Sawyer and Dinga made some strong moves around the rim that will fall in future games. Freshman Kaleigh Walsh and Sophomores Susie Poore and Nikki Lemay provide a nice supporting cast. The best basketball is yet to come in Windham.

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