Posted Date: 01/12/2021
Credit: Standard Democrat
Walking off the court after a three-point, overtime loss to New Madrid County Central in its second game of the season, the Sikeston girls basketball team had an idea of what they needed to accomplish to take-down a talented opponent.
"We knew from seeing them earlier what we were going to face,” Sikeston head coach Alisha Wills said. “We knew they were going to be tough and get after us. They were going to press us, so we had to remain patient, calm, do everything that we were supposed to do as far as plays, and getting open.
“We fell out of it there a little bit and lost some momentum. Then, after halftime, our talk helped. We came back out, revamped, regrouped, and took care of it like we were supposed to do in the first place.”
On Monday night, the Lady Bulldogs had an opportunity to avenge its loss and did just that, with a 63-55 victory. Sikeston (7-6; 2-0 SEMO Conference) has now won four-straight games.
Despite the win, NMCC did manage to strike first, leading 32-26 at the break. The Lady Eagles closed the half on a 6-0 run, highlighted by a steal from senior Shakyra Wright that turned into junior Jimmya Caldwell-Newson converting a layup and giving the momentum to NMCC (10-3; 4-1 SEMO Conference), in what was a back-and-forth first 16 minutes.
“We didn’t get in a flow early, but late; we did go on a 6-0 run, and I thought we were doing some things that worked on our defense,” NMCC head coach Toby Heeb said. “We rebounded a little bit better. Then, at halftime, we talked about adjusting to how they were breaking our press. They got a really special player, and we couldn’t stop her from getting to the goal.”
As soon as the second half started, though, Sikeston looked like a different team, turning its defense up a notch and allowing two field goals and five total points in the third quarter.
Trailing 37-36 at one point in the period, junior Amyari Blissett knocked-down one of her four 3-pointers to give the Lady Bulldogs a 39-37 lead with 2:31 remaining. Sikeston scored two more points during the final stretch to take a 41-37 advantage into the fourth.
NMCC would cut into the lead in the final quarter after Wright worked her way toward the basket and got her floater to drop to make it 45-43.
However, that field goal would lead to a run by Sikeston that spaced the game further in its favor. The Lady Bulldogs scored the next seven points, after a 3-pointer by Blissett and a deep 2-pointer from senior Chelsie Moore, to make it 52-43.
Even though two upperclassmen made a pair of important shots, one of the quarter’s more important plays came from an unlikely source.
Clinging to a two-point lead, sophomore Kirsten Fairhurst knocked the ball away from the Lady Eagles, forcing a crucial turnover, and taking it right to the bucket for a layup that doubled the lead to four and quick-started the run.
“I’ve called her this before; she’s a spark plug,” Wills said. “Kirsten brings a different element to our game. She’s probably one of the fastest people that we have on the floor. Her hands and her jumping ability are phenomenal. You look at her, and you don’t anticipate that she can jump as high as she does or that her reach is like it is. She’s one of those people that’s going to surprise you, and she’s a good surprise factor for us.”
Toward the end of the game, Sikeston ballooned its lead to double-figures, giving them a comfortable cushion.
From there, all Wills wanted her team to do was control the controllable, adding that if her team accomplished that, she knew they would be fine.
“Continue doing what we’ve been doing,” said Wills on keeping her double-digit lead with 2:30 left in the fourth. “We continued to pick passes off and then get the ball to the hole. A couple of times, we pulled it out and ran an offense, but most of the time, we were able to take it right to the basket. We’ve got girls that can take it to the basket, and that’s what we utilized and what we counted on.”
For Heeb, after a first-half that saw his team do a lot of good, the end was nearly the complete opposite, but he knows where his team can improve the most.
“We got to get tougher,” Heeb said. “We got to get mentally tough, knowing that things will get hard every night because we play a tough schedule, and we got more good teams left to play. It’s not going to be easy every night, and we are going to have to be able to weather the storm.”
Senior Alivia Hartman finished with a double-double, scoring 16 points and hauling 11 rebounds.
As Heeb was watching his standout senior at the line, he felt like her total should have been higher but credited Sikeston’s game plan for making it difficult.
“Watching her shoot free throws, I feel like she should have had 20-something,” Heeb said. “We struggled, and we got forced into a lot of tough bad shots that we didn’t want to take. We talked about pounding it inside to the post because I thought we had good position, and then in the second half, we were apprehensive about throwing it inside to the post and struggled to get it to them.”
Senior Tylei Wofford-Byrd added 13 points to go along with eight rebounds.
For Sikeston, junior Karris Allen finished with a double-double, scoring 21 points and grabbing 16 rebounds, while Blissett finished her night with a game-high 22 points. She was 4-of-9 (44 percent) from behind-the-arc as well.
Sikeston’s other double-digit scorer was Moore, with 15 points.
NMCC travels to Portageville on Thursday at 7:30 p.m., while Sikeston hosts Notre Dame at the Field House.
“They know what it's going to be like Thursday night,” Wills said. “We know that they’re a tough opponent, and I told them to start getting ready for it tonight. It was great that we won, but we got to look ahead. We’re back home at least, on our floor, but it’s still going to be a tough game for us, and we’ve got to be mentally prepared for that.”
SIKESTON (63) — Amyari Blissett 22, Karris Allen 21, Chelsie Moore 15, Nayla Bonner 4, Kirsten Fairhurst 2. FG 27, FT 6-12, F 15. (3-pointers: Blissett 4. Fouled out: none)
NMCC (55) — Alivia Hartman 16, Tylei Wofford-Byrd 13, Shakyra Wright 8, Jimmya Caldwell-Newson 8, Ayannah Ruff 6, Allisia Hester 4. FG 24, FT 5-13, F 16. (3-pointers: Ruff, Wofford-Byrd. Fouled out: none)