“We pressured the ball really well and got a lot of steals from our press,” Cleeton said after the win. “It converts to a lot of shots, lay-ups and transition points.”
Cleeton drove to the basket to open the scoring and - before the official scorer could look up - picked off the ball and scored again. Then - for good measure - she added a third to give Hillcrest a 6-0 lead before Glendale ever dribbled the ball across midcourt.
“She has a great nose for the ball,“ said Hillcrest coach Jenni Hopkins. “Great nose, great anticipation skills and great finishing skills. That was a great way for us to start off and it gave us some momentum.
“It’s so cliché, but we create a lot of things out of our defense. We’ve been working a lot on our rotations, so I was pleased to see that tonight.”
The Lady Hornets cranked up the furnace on a youthful Glendale team to the tune of 22 turnovers, 16 of them in the first half. And, when the Lady Falcons were able to get the ball into the frontcourt, they had to deal with 6-foot-1 junior Brittany Fisher. “The Long Arms of the Law” - as Hopkins called her - blocked six Glendale shots.
“She’s really working on her timing and - instead of swatting at the ball - blocking it and keeping possession,” said Hopkins. “Glendale drives the ball well, so for her to take away that option was a great help.”
Fisher is listed as a guard because - for nearly all of her life - that’s the position she played. But she started to sprout up in sixth grade and is now 6-foot-1 - though she has maintained her body control and her ball handling skills.
“I’ve never played down low before until this year. I feel that I’m a guard, but I’m becoming more of a post,” Fisher said. “I’d rather handle the ball, but I like the points.”
How young are these Lady Falcons? They have just three upperclassmen on their 15-player roster and started three freshmen.
“Part of (the turnovers) tonight was our inexperience and being young at the guard position,” said Glendale coach Renee Temple. “The more we practice that and the more they see it in games, the stronger they’re going to get with the ball and be able to protect the ball and have some confidence with the ball.”
That group was resilient despite the early deficit. Junior Forward Keri Cook had every Glendale point in a 7-2 run late in the first half that nearly cut the lead to single digits before a Cleeton 3-pointer ended their momentum.
“We set game goals for the team, and effort is one of those things. We’ve talked about that a lot this year. It’s got to be there, game-in and game-out. We can’t let the score dictate effort, and I felt like we did that tonight. I felt like we put together a good game.”
Cleeton finished with 26 points to lead all scorers. Kelbi Painter added 13 and Fisher chipped in 11 for Hillcrest (6-4 overall, 1-0 Ozark Conference).
Cook had a workmanlike night for Glendale (0-10, 0-1), going hard in the paint and finishing he night with 20 points and 13 rebounds - both team highs. She was the only Lady Falcon in double figures, though Mariah Starks contributed 9.
“She’s one of those kids that just plays hard,” said Temple. “She’s very consistent for us, very determined, and we utilize her a lot. She’s doing a good job of being big inside for us. And she’s a very unselfish player and she looks for the good of the team.”
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