By Nolan Epstein
It can be hard to stay upbeat after losing your first four games of the season, but never tell that to the Central Lady Bulldogs.
Despite a rocky start to the year, the positive mindset of head coach Caitlin Russell’s team finally paid major dividends on Monday as the Lady Bulldogs (1-4) broke away from host Hillcrest (0-7) for a 58-38 win – their first victory of 2016-17.
With Central holding a tight 28-25 lead at the end of the second quarter, the third period proved to be the turning point as Russell’s squad used the energy and positivity it had carried all season to outscore the Lady Hornets 18-2 – turning a three-point halftime advantage into a comfortable 19-point lead at the end of the third quarter.
“Coming into tonight at Hillcrest, a strong opponent for us, we talked even more about keeping that energy and I think these girls really responded to it,” Russell said. “They ran with it. They fed off each other and they were positive the entire game, so that kind of trickled into that third-quarter run.”
Kaitlyn Maxwell gave Hillcrest a momentary two-point lead with just under a minute remaining in the first half, but five straight points by Central to end the half acted as a precursor of what was to soon follow.
Central would score the first 16 points of the third quarter before a layup by Chia Brooks with 22 seconds to go finally ended the drought for the Lady Hornets.
“You let [Central] get a couple rebounds with you not scoring and they come down and hit a couple [shots], now they’re starting to separate and feel good and confident about themselves,” said Hillcrest first-year head coach Justin Gerald. “Kudos to them for executing that.”
Six of Central’s 18 points in the separation quarter came compliments of sophomore Dasia Pence, who did a little bit of everything on the hardwood.
In addition to knocking down five 3-pointers, Pence showed her ability to drive to the basket, went 7-for-9 at the free-throw line and set up shots for her teammates on the way to a game-high 28-point performance.
“[Pence] can do wonders on the court,” Russell said. “She’s a basketball player through and through. We always discuss how big her talent is with the things she isn’t showing, and tonight, she showed everybody that she’s capable of doing so much more.”
Perhaps most importantly, the athletic sophomore was a vocal leader on Monday, making sure her team kept its intensity up no matter what the scoreboard showed at any point in the game.
“I was trying to keep my team up and get everybody to stay mentally tough,” said Pence. “When everybody is in it, it’s a lot easier to feed off each other. When we feed off each other, we start rolling.”
Central comes back to “The Pit” for its home opener on Thursday against Willard, while Hillcrest looks to get in the win column on Thursday at Bolivar.
Central – 14 14 18 12 – 58
Hillcrest – 16 9 2 11 – 38
Central – Dasia Pence 28, Sakirah Jones 13, La’Kale Moore 8, Tabby Tate 4, Katie Garton 3, Heather Cornman 2
Hillcrest – Sarah Hale 9, Kaitlyn Maxwell 9, Mackenzie Kendrick 8, Chia Brooks 5, Reagan Jamison 4, Hope Cochran 2, Madison Schaefferkotter 1