With eight of nine players suiting up in the green and white for the first time in their careers, Seward County Lady Saints fans might not have known what to expect when their team opened up their 2010-2011 season in the Greenhouse during the Pepsi Classic this weekend. The new look Lady Saints gave the home crowd high hopes on Friday night with a blowout 81-36 win over Neosho and nearly gave them a heart attack before eventually coming back to win 60-57 Saturday night against Ranger College.
With the buzz of a new season in the air the Lady Saints were introduced to a packed Greenhouse and gave them something to cheer about right away. Ashlynn Knoll scored Seward’s first points of the 2010-2011 campaign on a mid range jumper set up by Mattie Yanke and the Lady Saints allowed just 2 points in the first 5 minutes to take a 10-2 lead after a 10 footer from Kayla Thomas found the bottom of the net. Baskets from Mariah Lee and Knoll on back to back possessions before the media timeout would give Seward a 10 point lead at 17-7 and Hannah Rotolo would tack onto the advantage with a steal and score to put the Lady Saints up a dozen. Leading 20-9 with 7:16 to go in the half, the Lady Saints would go on a 21-0 run to blow the game wide open as seven different Seward players would score in the stretch and even after Neosho would end their draught with a hoop before the half, the Lady Saints led 41-11 as the teams went to the locker room. Seward’s defense was so suffocating that Neosho went without a field goal from the 12:28 mark of the half to the :25 while they forced 13 turnovers in the span. The Lady Saints ended the half forcing 19 Neosho turnovers while holding them to just 18% shooting from the field and 0 for 7 from the three point line. Seward was so balanced that no player played more than 13 minutes in the half while all 9 scored and 8 of 9 recorded at least 1 rebound.
While the Lady Panthers scored the first hoop of the second half, it didn’t get much better for former Oklahoma Sooner Kelley Newton and his gals from Chanute. Seward quickly pushed their lead to 40 just six minutes into the half when Lee grabbed a rebound and scored and wrapped up a 9-0 run with a basket from Yanke to stretch the lead to 46 at 66-20. The Lady Saints continued to pour it on Neosho and gained their largest lead of the game in the final minute when Thomas scored on an assist from Autumn Miller to put the home team up 55 points at 86-31 which would hold as the final score in the Seward win.
Six Lady Saints would score in double figures in the win led by Hanna Bognar’s 13 and Knoll’s 12. Miller finished with 11 and Lee, Rotolo, and Kelsey Willson all ended the night with 10. Both Bognar and Lee finished with double-doubles in the win as Bognar grabbed a team high 12 rebounds and Lee 10. Miller had a team high 7 assists compared to just 1 turnover while Rotolo’s return to Liberal saw her fill up all columns of the stat sheet as she finished with 6 rebounds, 6 assists, and 5 steals to go along her 10 points.
It looked like the Lady Saints were starting off Saturday night’s game with Ranger the same way they had played throughout the night on Friday after Mattie Yanke banged home a three pointer on Seward’s first possession and Kayla Thomas knocked down a triple moments later to put the gals in green up 8-2 five minutes in. Seward would continue to launch the three ball from the outside but it simply wasn’t falling and after holding the lead for the first 10:30 of the first half, a defensive breakdown and layup inside by Ranger’s Chelsea Chimney, the Lady Rangers took their first lead of the night 16-15. Back to back baskets from Ashlynn Knoll and Kelsey Willson, both on assists from Autumn Miller, would put Seward back up by three 19-16. After a free throw from Mariah Lee made it 20-16 in favor of Seward, the Lady Rangers went on a 4-0 run to tie things up at 20 with 5:32 to go in the half. Seward would score 5 straight points and looked as if they would take a lead into the half but Ranger would outscore the Lady Saints 7-2 in the final 3:20 of the half and went into the locker room with a 30-29 lead to the bewilderment of the Greenhouse crowd. Despite turning the ball over 13 times, Ranger held the lead thanks in part to just 31% shooting from the Lady Saints. The lone bright spot for the Seward offense was Knoll who finished the half with 10 points and 5 rebounds on 4 of 9 shooting.
After a stern halftime talk with Coach Toby Wynn, the Lady Saints looked to come out of the locker room ready to go. Lee would score on Seward’s opening possession to put the Lady Saints back on top 31-30 and Knoll would continue her hot shooting on Seward’s next trip to extend the lead to 33-30. Hannah Rotolo would hit a three pointer to answer a bucket from Ranger and Seward was up four 36-32. The Lady Saints would then go cold for the next 4:30 and would be held without a point as their lead evaporated and the Lady Rangers took a three point lead of their own at 39-36. Seward’s offense would remain dormant and it seemed as if each time they did find a way to score on the offensive end, they couldn’t get that much needed stop on the other end as Ranger actually extended their lead to five points and then six with 6:20 to go. The Lady Saints would step up their defense and hold Ranger without a point for the next three minutes and although still shooting at a basket with a lid on it, found their way to the free throw line four times, capitalizing on each of their opportunities to cut their deficit to just two at 53-51. A couple of easy looks for the Lady Rangers would allow them to take their lead back to five with just 2:23 to go and it looked as if the Lady Saints were in danger of dropping just their 10th game in the Greenhouse in the past 20 seasons. That’s when Kelsey Willson stepped out from her usual spot in the post to drill a much needed three pointer and get the Lady Saints back rolling in the right direction. After a defensive stop, Knoll knocked down a free throw to cut the lead to 57-56 and on Seward’s next possession then would get a mid range jumper with 1:04 to go from Knoll to give them their first lead since the 18:26 mark. Rotolo and Miller would each make one of two free throw attempts on separate trips to put the Lady Saints up three with 4 seconds to go and a desperation three from the Lady Rangers would go long as the horn sounded and Seward escaped with a 60-57 win at home. Seward would hold Ranger scoreless for the last 2:23 of the game to come away with the win in front of an again thrilled home crowd.
The Lady Saints come away with the win despite shooting just 29% from the field and turning the ball over an uncharacteristic 19 times. The big difference on the stat sheet came at the free throw line where the Lady Saints outscored the Lady Rangers 18-3 on the night as well as in the rebounding compartment where Seward grabbed 17 offensive boards to just 6 for Ranger. Leading the way for Seward offensively was Knoll who finished with a game high 20 points and a team high 7 rebounds. Seward’s depth was again a strength as eight of nine Lady Saints scored in the game with their top scorer from Friday night being the only player not to get on the board. Willson finished the night with 14 points and 6 rebounds and Rotolo scored 8 and had 4 rebounds.
The Lady Saints will now hit the road on Friday and Saturday when they head to the Sports Arena in Hutchinson to take on Moberly Area College and Bethany JV at 1:30 on both days.