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  • Val T.

‘Gopher’ broke: Clinton Prairie opens with 16-2 run, goes on to beat Lady Zs in regional semifinal

Updated: Feb 17, 2021

Thomas scores 10, Hughes adds 9 in loss


Sports Editor, RTC

FRANKTON –- It might be considered a great what-if.

Rochester girls basketball coach Brian Jennings called it a missed opportunity.

What if the Lady Zs had gotten off to a better start against No. 7 Clinton Prairie in their Class 2A Frankton regional semifinal Saturday?

They will have a long spring, summer and fall to think about the answer.

Tynlie Neal scored 12 of her game-high 16 points in the first quarter, and Claire Ecenbarger added 12 as the Lady Gophers (21-2) opened the game with a 16-2 spurt and went on to a 49-40 win over RHS.

Lexy Thomas scored 10 points, and Emily Hughes had nine off the bench for RHS, who finished 12-9 and who saw their season end on the same Frankton court in the regional semis for the second straight year.

Kallie Watson contributed eight points and tight, face-guarding defense on Neal.

The Lady Zs had fewer turnovers, committing 18 as compared to Clinton Prairie’s 25. They had a 20-8 advantage in bench points. And they made more free throws (12) than Clinton Prairie attempted (11), perhaps indicating that they were better at getting the ball in the paint.

Watson and Sydney Haughs also held Neal, Clinton Prairie’s leading scorer on the season, without a field goal in the second half.

But the beginning was too much to overcome. RHS trailed by as many as 17 points in the first half and 35-25 at halftime.

“After the game, we talked to the girls in there and said all season long and even the three years that I’ve been here, we’ve talked about opportunities,” RHS coach Brian Jennings said. “Making yourself a player that has the opportunity to play multiple positions. Taking advantage of opportunities to win the conference, to win the sectional. The sad thing is I feel like we gave away an opportunity to win this game today.”

They got as close as 39-31 on a Hughes free throw with 7:34 left, but Ecenbarger answered with a 3-pointer, and after two more Hughes free throws, Sydney Swan drilled a 3-pointer to put Clinton Prairie back up 45-33.

The 3-point shooting helped decide it. Clinton Prairie hit seven 3-pointers while Rochester made none. Clinton Prairie exhibited a man-to-man fullcourt pressure at the start of the game and then adapted to a 3-2 zone later.

“Late in the game – and they did this against (Lafayette) Central Catholic also – they went to a 3-2 zone late in the game, and I think they were trying to keep us from getting some 3-point shots out of this. Their man was keeping us from getting 3-point shots, but maybe they were trying to take away our posts.

“We pretty much attack the same way. Our high ball screen offense, we run that against zones or man. We just didn’t move the ball quick enough out of it and recognize to get the shots at the end of the game like we wanted to.”

Neal scored the game’s first seven points on a transition layup, a running banker and a 3-pointer. An Ecenbarger basket made it 9-0, and Jennings called timeout.

A driving scoop from Neal made it 11-0 after the timeout.

Hughes scored RHS’ first points on a putback, but Neal hit a 3-pointer and Kylee Maish scored on a putback to make it 16-2.

Jennings called another timeout.

All six RHS points – four from Hughes and two from Kallie Watson – in the first quarter came from the bench.

A Sydney Swan 3-point play, a Hannah Wilson free throw and two Ecenbarger free throws offset a Watson putback as the lead grew to 24-8 early in the second quarter.

Millie Scorsone scored in the paint for RHS, but Ecenbarger banged in a 3, and the lead was up to 27-10.

Then RHS scored 15 points in a five-minute span against a Clinton Prairie defense that allows just 32 per game.

Scorsone hit a free throw, and Howdeshell had a steal and a layup. Then Howdeshell hit two free throws. Then Watson hit two free throws.

Neal hit a 15-footer to make it 29-17, but the glass-eating Thomas scored the next eight RHS points, including three putbacks off misses and two free throws.

The lead was down to 10 at halftime.

Ecenbarger and Maish scored the first two buckets of the second half to get the lead back to 39-25. RHS chipped away at the lead. They held the Lady Gophers scoreless for a five-and-a-half minute stretch covering the third and fourth quarters but could only get the lead down to eight.

“We went to a diamond(-and-one defense) a lot, so we could get out and cover the wings a little bit,” Jennings said of the defense. “We practiced our 1-3-1 that we started in. We just wanted to give them a little bit different look than our 2-3 like normal. So we practiced the 1-3-1 quite a bit this week. So we said when we go diamond, all we’re doing is taking out the middle person and they’re chasing. So the top people, the wing people, the bottom people are still doing the same things we normally do in our ‘13’ (1-3-1 zone) and still very similar to what we do in our 2-3.

“I really think that made a difference in their offense early, and it really slowed down (Neal). She got hot on us early. That’s what we were concerned about, and they took advantage of that opportunity.”

The game marked the finale for RHS seniors Kaitlin Rogers, Mercedes Brown and Kim Batten.

Rogers, who averaged 8.7 ppg in three sectional games, was held to one point. Brown scored the final RHS field goal of the season on a pullup 12-footer.

“I told them a few weeks ago, I said, ‘My thing as a coach is to some day see you guys give back to the sport of basketball, whether it be in a youth league or your sons or daughters’ league, give back to the game,’” Jennings said. “And I think all three of these girls will do that.”

In the second semifinal, Ashley Schram scored 22 points and grabbed seven rebounds to lead Tipton to a 57-44 win over No. 7 Frankton. Olivia Spidel added 15, and Ella Wolfe had 13.

Cagney Utterback and Bailee Webb had nine points each to lead Frankton, the 2020 state runners-up.

Tipton then went on to defeat Clinton Prairie 48-35 in the regional final. Tipton, who has no seniors, lost to both Frankton and Clinton Prairie during the regular season.

Tipton will play North Judson at Logansport at 4 p.m. this Saturday in the semistate.

Clinton Prairie 49, Rochester 40

ROCHESTER (40) (12-9)

Emma Howdeshell 1 2-2 4, Kennedy Jackson 0 0-0 0, Kaitlin Rogers 0 1-2 1, Lexy Thomas 4 2-4 10, Millie Scorsone 2 1-2 5, Kallie Watson 3 2-3 8, Kim Batten 0 0-0 0, Sydney Haughs 0 1-2 1, Maddie Heinzmann 0 0-0 0, Emily Hughes 3 3-4 9, Mercedes Brown 1 0-0 2, Kylie Coleman 0 0-0 0

TEAM: 14 12-21 40


Hannah Wilson 0 1-2 1, Claire Ecenbarger 4 2-2 12, Tynlie Neal 6 2-3 16, Kylee Maish 3 0-0 6, Sydney Swan 2 1-1 6, Alyssa Eitnier 0 0-0 0, Hadley Wilson 0 0-2 0, Rylee Ward 2 0-0 6, Haley Padgett 1 0-0 2, Isabelle Anthrop 0 0-0 0

TEAM: 18 6-11 49

Three-point field goals:

Rochester 0,

Clinton Prairie 7 (Neal 2, Ecenbarger 2, Ward 2, Swan)

Total fouls: Rochester 13, Clinton Prairie 17

Turnovers: Rochester 18, Clinton Prairie 25

Score by quarters

Rochester 6 19 5 10 – 40

Clinton Prairie 18 17 4 10 – 49

Photos Courtesy of Dee Brown

Photos Courtesy of Dee Brown

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