• Val T.

Lady Zs’ scrimmage against Plymouth caps summer season

BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS

Sports Editor, RTC

PLYMOUTH –- Instead of the usual black and gold, the Rochester girls basketball team wore blue uniforms in a scrimmage at Plymouth to close out their June summer season prior to the IHSAA’s Moratorium Week.

Much was different from a typical high school basketball game.

And instead of dead balls, players often substituted on the fly as if it were a hockey game. Instead of referees, coaches just called fouls from the bench.

Still, observers should not have been confused. Familiar faces like Emma Howdeshell, Kallie Watson, Kennedy Jackson and Millie Scorsone were on the court. But it’s the new faces that added intrigue.

And though Kaitlin Rogers, Mercedes Brown and Kim Batten graduated from a team that has won back-to-back sectional titles, the Lady Zs might be even deeper next year, according to coach Brian Jennings.

They might need to be. Pioneer, who won the Class 1A state title last year, is moving up to Class 2A per the IHSAA Success Factor, and the IHSAA placed them in Rochester’s sectional.

“I think really the biggest thing is the number of kids,” Rochester fourth-year coach Brian Jennings said. “We’ve constantly had open gyms with 20-plus kids most of the time. So we’ve got kids buying in, getting to the practices. I think it’s just been a good understanding. We’ve kind of went back to the core offense, core defenses. The group has grown up a little bit. We’ve got a lot of returning players, and you can really see that.”

Nineteen Rochester players attended. Among those not attending were forward Lexy Thomas, a first-team all-Three Rivers Conference player, and Kami Butkett, one of the team’s top defensive guards.

Rochester and Plymouth agreed on a makeshift scrimmage after a shootout at Warsaw was canceled. Both Rochester and Plymouth were supposed to participate in the Warsaw shootout and agreed to play each other.

Plymouth first-year coach Micaela Box is a 2016 Bremen grad and a former high school teammate of Alexis Jennings, Brian’s daughter.

“Micaela’s kind of grown up at my house with my daughter a few years,” Brian Jennings said.

Each quarter of the scrimmage was divided by type of defense – from man-to-man one quarter to zone the next to a full-court press the next. Quarters were also divided into varsity and JV portions.

Though a quarter of fullcourt pressure from both sides might have led to more ragged play, Jennings said that ballhandling was a strength during the summer season.

Jennings also said that the designated defenses that the team played as part of the rules of the scrimmage marked the first time all summer that the Lady Zs did not play man-to-man defense.

“I think the biggest thing is just basic fundamentals,” Jennings said when asked what is important this time of year. “Today there were times we didn’t take care of the ball, but I thought throughout the summer, we took care of the basketball a little bit, understanding the basics, getting back to basic man-to-man, the communication … again, still a little lax today, but it’s been better throughout the summer.”

Jennings also said the girls have worked on their shooting individually. Rogers, Brown and Batten combined to make 43 of Rochester’s 81 3-pointers last season.

Among the players who made 3-pointers at the scrimmage were Howdeshell; Savanah Eccles, a junior who drilled a 3 from the right corner; diminutive freshman point guard Rylee Clevenger; freshman wing Darah Strasser; sophomore guard Emma Sells; and junior Maddie Heinzmann, who hit two treys in back-to-back possessions in the fourth quarter.

Sophomore Lilly Watson also buried a 15-footer.

But the player who might be the team’s most impactful perimeter shooter is junior Rily Holloway. Holloway, a transfer from Tippecanoe Valley, hit five 3-pointers and scored 17 points in a game against North Miami last season.

“Her basketball IQ is great, so it wasn’t difficult for her to pick up our system,” Jennings said. “She adds another good shooting guard. She can really shoot the basketball well. … She’s fit in well. The first week, we just said, ‘Hey, Rily, you’re out here, blah blah blah,’ and we really never took time to do introductions until about a week ago. So that’s on Coach. But she’s been doing great. She and Millie have known each other for awhile, and she’s fitting in well.”

There were also plenty of opportunities for the frontcourt players. Post players Millie Scorsone and Emily Hughes also had touches down low, and Scorsone had five quick buckets in the final quarter against the undersized Lady Pilgrims, either on post-ups or putbacks.

Scorsone said she works out at The Zone in Plymouth.

“The hook shot, I got better at that,” Scorsone said.

If the shooting can be improved and if Thomas, Hughes and Scorsone can be productive in the post, it can only lead to more lineup versatility.

Jennings could play a smaller lineup with multiple guards like Howdeshell, Burkett, Watson and Holloway for shooting and ballhandling purposes. Or he can play a post-heavy lineup with Scorsone, Hughes and Thomas.

Or he can play a combination. Jennings went out of his way to praise Thomas, whom he said had the best spring and summer of any player he’s coached during his four-year tenure as Rochester coach.

“We’re going to have a lot of options,” Jennings said. “We can go big. We can go small. We’ll probably change things during the game. We can go to a good pressing team, and we can play bully ball if we want to play that route.

“I have seen great improvement across the board from every player.”

Rochester lost to Clinton Prairie 49-40 in a Class 2A regional semifinal at Frankton on Feb. 13.

“We could have,” Scorsone said when asked if the Clinton Prairie game was winnable. “But we didn’t. So we’ll just beat them next time. … I feel like we got mad at ourselves, so we were not playing our hardest that we had played.”

They also lost to Lafayette Central Catholic 47-38 in a 2020 regional semifinal. Making regional this year figures to only be harder with Pioneer in their sectional.

“I think they feel they had some unfinished business,” Jennings said. “I think we felt we could have done a little bit more in the tournament last year, and now you bring Pioneer into the sectional, and I think they’re fueled by that.”

Said Scorsone: “I think we could get further than sectionals this year, but we just have to beat Pioneer.”

Lady Z notes

  • Jennings said that Rochester will also play Plymouth during the regular season. The teams have not played since Jan. 17, 2018. Rochester has also added a game with Goshen that will be played at Grace College.

  • The Warsaw tournament at which Rochester was supposed to participate last year is off the schedule.

  • Rochester will participate in the eight-team Twin Lakes Invitational, typically held in the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. The tournament was canceled due to COVID-19 concerns last year. Pioneer will also participate in that tournament. Crown Point, who wound up winning the Class 4A state title last year, was supposed to participate last year but will not participate this year.

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