(Photo by Chris Pobst, Staff)
BENTON -- The Charleston Lady Bluejays may have shown they are the team to beat in Class 3, District 1.
After a 53-41 win over the Kelly Lady Hawks at Kelly High School on Monday night, Charleston holds two wins over the perennial favorite Kelly, one win over the defending champion Scott City Lady Rams and two more wins over contenders East Prairie and New Madrid County Central.
Monday's win over Kelly put the Lady Bluejays in front of the conference standings as well as marked one of the first times in recent memory Charleston has won a game at Kelly High School.
"This puts us in the drivers seat in the conference," Charleston head coach Michael Minner said. "It's been a long time probably since Charleston has came to Kelly and won a ball game. It's a big win for our program and a big step.
"We're happy that we're competing with them now," Minner added. "They've been the team in the area that you set the standard. To get two victories in a season over them is a tribute to our kids and where our program has come from."
The Lady Bluejays (12-4) showed why they are atop the conference and district ladder at this point by stalling out a furious comeback by the Lady Hawks in the second half.
The eight-point advantage that stood for Charleston at halftime grew to a 12-point lead at the end of the third quarter after being up by as much as 15 points in that same period. A 10-2 run capped off by a layup from Kelly's Kristen Powell brought the Lady Hawks back to within four points with just over four-and-a-half minutes left to play.
Kelly made it just a four-point game twice more in the next minute with Powell, again, sinking a bucket to make it a 42-38 game with 3:33 left on the clock. But just 17 short ticks later, Charleston junior Lakiesha Wilson stuck a dagger in the hopes of any comeback that the Lady Hawks could muster. Wilson drained a 3-pointer which acted as an off switch to any Kelly rally and capped off what Minner said was a great night for his guards.
"Our guard play was tremendous," said Minner. "We took care of the ball and didn't turn it over. Lakiesha Wilson played her tail off and, once again, Jerquawnda does a tremendous job and Chelsie too. It was just a phenomenal effort by our guards to keep us in the ball game."
With both Kasuela Cooper and Eneikqua Ewing battling with foul trouble for most of the night, the heavy load was put squarely on the shoulders of those three guards. Wilson finished with a game-high 14 points while Jerquawnda Sherrell and Chelsie Lane each finished with 11 points apiece. Wilson and Lane did their part under the basket as well by grabbing a combined 10 rebounds. Sherrell added four steals as well.
Cooper and Ewing would each foul out in the fourth quarter. Cooper was the fourth Charleston player in double digits with 10 points. She also pulled down eight rebounds and picked up six steals as well.
"This was a team effort tonight," Minner said. "Our big girls got in foul trouble and we played well enough to win. We hit some big shots."
Kelly on the other hand struggled early and then eventually, did the same after Wilson's big 3-pointer. The Lady Hawks quickly found themselves eight points behind Charleston in the first four minutes of the game. However, a burst in the offense sprung Kelly out in front 10-8 at the end of the first quarter with a 10-0 run. Londyn Backfisch scored the first Lady Hawks bucket at the 3:16 mark.
Just three points from the Kelly offense put the Lady Bluejays back out in front for the remainder of the game in the second quarter as Charleston posted 13 to go up 21-13 at the half.
Free throw troubles and point-blank shots around the rim were the downfall of the Lady Hawks during the entire game, but were especially hurtful down the stretch.
"We didn't deserve to come back," Kelly head coach Rod McQuerter said. "When you can't make free throws and layups you don't deserve to come back. You can't expect to come out on top in a basketball game. You can't dig a hole and expect to come out of it in the last four or five minutes of the game."
Kelly (8-7) shot 32 percent (9-of-28) from the free throw line which added to their offensive slumps throughout the contest.
"They dug a hole early," said McQuerter. "When you shoot 9-of-28 from the free throw line, that's not good. You don't deserve to win if you shoot 9-for-28. You've got to come in and concentrate, focus and make your free throws.
"There's no offense in the world designed to help you make free throws," McQuerter added. "That's you, the ball and the line -- all by yourself."
Powell led the Lady Hawks with 12 points while Kayla Hicks added 10 points and grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds. Frustrated with the way they shot the ball, particularly from the free throw line, some select players stayed after the game to work on just that.
"They earned the win tonight," McQuerter said about Charleston. "Our girls right now are shooting after the game. They're upset that they couldn't make free throws or layups and they need to be. That's not a coaching thing or a team thing, it's a personal thing.
"One of my philosophies is 'repetition, makes habit.' The more you do it hopefully it will get better."
Kelly will have a chance to improve on their shooting tonight when they travel to Caruthersville at 6 p.m. Charleston will play again on Thursday when they head to Oran.
CHARLESTON (53) -- Jerquawnda Sherrell 11, Chelsie Lane 11, Kasuela Cooper 10, Lakiesha Wilson 14, Jasmine Spence 5, Eneikqua Ewing 2. FG 19 FT 11-26 F 23. (3-pointers: Sherrell 2, Wilson 2. Fouled out: Cooper, Ewing.)
KELLY (41) -- Londyn Backfisch 8, Carissa Klipfel 5, Neely Tetley 4, Kayla Hicks 10, Samantha Fisher 2, Kristen Powell 12. FG 16 FT 9-28 F 22. (3-pointers: none. Fouled out: none.)