HANOVERTON-Coaches talk about it all the time - the dreaded trap game immediately following an emotional win.
Coming off a last-second victory against South Range that pulled them into a tie for the league lead, the Springfield Tigers took a while to summon that same energy Monday at United but were able to re-group in time to stave off the Eagles 44-37 at United High School.
Springfield improves to 14-2 overall and 9-1 in the Inter-Tri County League upper tier, staying even with idle South Range. Despite the scrappy effort, the Eagles fall to 8-10, 4-6 ITCL.
"We were a little overconfident tonight," Springfield shooting guard Kennedy Richey said. "We were not completely in the game mentally at the start and it showed."
Richey led the Tigers with 16 points on the strength of four three-pointers, including a pivotal three with 2:12 to go which gave the Tigers a 41-36 lead and a bit of breathing room. Point guard Callie Ford had 10 points and eight rebounds while forward Jillian Tabaka had eight points and four rebounds as the Tigers overcame a five-point halftime deficit to take the lead by the end of the third quarter..
"Emotionally, we weren't there in the first half. We got sucked into a letdown," Springfield coach Jim Schuler said. "It's a natural reaction after a big win, but I think we got it turned around in the second half. Kennedy came up with some big shots when we needed them."
Point guard Mackenzie Gatchel nailed five three-pointers and led United with 16 points, four rebounds and four assists, while MacKenzie Firth and Jenna Plummer grabbed eight rebounds apiece and Morgan Smith contributed eight points and five rebounds off the bench.
The Eagles outrebounded the Tigers 32-24, but the offense went dry down the stretch. United did not score a field goal in the last five minutes.
"We have gotten a lot better offensively, but are still struggling to be consistent," United coach Sam Mathias said. "Down the stretch we had some key turnovers and I think we panicked in a few situations."
With the Eagles ahead 23-18 at halftime, Schuler told his squad that their undefeated season was on the line and challenged them to come out of the locker room with renewed intensity. The Tigers responded by tightening up their man-to-man defense and re-dedicating themselves to ball movement. A Richey three-pointer with two minutes left in the frame gave the Tigers the lead for good at 31-28.
"The second half was a completely different mindset for us," Richey said. "We woke up a little bit and started running the offense a lot better and got some much better shots off."
United hung around until the very end. Four straight points from Morgan Smith got the Eagles within two with just under five minutes left. The two teams traded empty possessions for over two minutes before Richey curled around a screen and nailed her big three to make it a two possession game. After a United turnover, Richey swished two free-throws to virtually ice the game.
"It felt really good to open the lead like that," Richey said. "(Mackenzie) Gatchel can really shoot the three so it was big to be up five late in the game."
United jumped out to an early 12-5 lead as Gatchel opened up with a pair of early threes and created opportunities for her teammates off her passing. Mathias considered the game a valuable learning experience for his young team.
"The effort has been there even through the really rough times," Mathias said. "Little by little, the girls are starting to get a better grasp on situations and the game is beginning to slow down for them."
Springfield guard Mary Ritter had only four points, but her second-half defense on Gatchel was one of the deciding factors in the game. Gatchel had one point in the fourth quarter.
"Mary did a great job at forcing the ball out of Gatchel's hand and contesting all the threes," Schuler said. "She's a good player and is going to get her points, but I'm happy with how we did."
United won the junior varsity game, 30-20. Megan Amos had nine points for the Eagles. Rachel Leach had eight points for the Tigers.
SPRINGFIELD SCORING: Baylee Felger 0-2-2, Kennedy Richey 4-4-16, Jillian Tabaka 4-0-8, Callie Ford 4-2-10, Mary Ritter 2-0-4, Emily Stacy 0-0-0, Joanie Foster 2-0-4. TEAM TOTALS: 16, 8-17: 44.
UNITED SCORING: Mackenzie Gatchel 5-1-16, MacKenzie Firth 3-2-8, Jenna Plummer 0-1-1, Sydney Moats 0-0-0, Lauren Beech 1-0-2, Morgan Snith 4-0-8, Kassie Chestnut 1-0-2. TEAM TOTALS: 14, 4-8: 37.
Three-point goals: Springfield 4 (Richey 4), United 5 (Gatchel 5).