Girls' Basketball: Two and go, go
By BRANDON HURLEY
Late in the fourth quarter Tuesday night, Greene County do-it-all senior Laurin Lyons slithered her way through the clutches of four Perry players to snatch her own missed free throw, cracking a smile as she was fouled one final time.
The specific play, while minor in the box score, symbolized the gritty effort the Rams displayed all night long.
A 63-52 home victory over Perry was a long overdue for Lyons and the suddenly undefeated Rams (2-0), who hadn’t beaten the Jayettes in their last nine tries, dating back to 2008.
Many of the losses weren’t even competitive, including a 70-38 defeat in 2016, with Perry claiming the previous three contests by a combined 85 points.
The 2017 version would be different, despite a slow start. The Rams outscored Perry 57-34 over the final 24 minutes, turning a 13-point deficit into a comfortable 11-point victory. Elation and relief ensued as the players embraced at mid-court following the final buzzer, with smiles and screams filling the gym.
The Nov. 28 triumph was visibly satisfying for the players and coaches, as they reveled in a unusually boisterous home crowd. With the win, the Rams secured their first 2-0 start in four years.
“I’ll tell you, it’s amazing. I will not sleep tonight. I’m so happy for the girls,” Greene County head coach Dean Lyons said outside of a jubilant locker room. “They’ve bought into what we are trying to teach. Perry has been a thorn in our side and they could’ve given up. It feels great.”
A lackadaisical opening frame complete with careless turnovers, poor transition defense and low-percentage shots hinted at yet another Greene County letdown in the long-time rivalry.
Perry blitzed the Rams for a 19-6 lead after one quarter, using a 14-2 run to take control, which left fans and players dejected as things seemed destine to settle into the norm.
But a 25-point second quarter explosion pulled Greene County within striking distance at the break, nearly erasing the 13-point deficit. The Jekyll and Hyde first half left the Rams trailing 32-31 with two quarters to play. The outburst came in array of ways, fast break buckets, uncharacteristic threes and second chance put backs to outscore Perry 25-13 in the second frame.
Perhaps Lyons’ pep talk as he pulled his girls’ together in between quarters is what sparked the comeback. Something certainly clicked as they took the floor for the final eight minutes of the half and it could be credited to a defensive switch that flustered the Perry ball handlers.
“I don’t know if I can repeat what I said,” Lyons said of the post first quarter huddle. “But I thought we were playing scared and not the way I thought we were playing. I told them we need to grow up, this isn’t fifth grade basketball anymore. We threw in a half court trap and that was a game-changer.”
Greene County wasted little time regaining their first lead since a 2-0 advantage, as Bailey Cunningham’s layup just seconds into the third quarter gave the Rams a 33-32 lead. The two squads continued to trade buckets until Greene County ripped off a 9-0 run late in the quarter to take the lead for good, stretching their advantage to 46-37. The Jefferson-based squad kept their foot on the gas throughout the fourth quarter, securing clutch baskets from seniors Sam Hardaway and Onica Delp, as the defensive pressure tightened and Perry continued to miss shots. Greene County built it’s biggest lead of the night, 55-44 thanks to five straight Hardaway points. The Jayettes tried to chip away at the lead, but a string of clanked free throws, including four straight with under two minutes to play, sealed the victory for the notoriously down-trodden Rams.
Pulling out that hard-fought triumph was a matter of believing they could do it, Lyons said.
“I think we had confidence. Coach (Jeff) Lamoureux said it best, I think we turned the corner in a lot of ways,” the coach said. “We showed we can come back and win. You could see it in their eyes they wanted to win.”
Laurin Lyons provided her usual stat-stuffing night, tallying a double-double with a team-high 21 points to go with 12 rebounds, six assists and three steals. Through two games, the senior is averaging 18.5 points, nine rebounds, five assists and 2.5 steals, but hasn’t done it without some help. Various Greene County role players have stepped up, including sophomore Bailey Cunningham, who poured in 10 points and chipped in five rebounds and five steals in the Rams’ season-opening 46-35 win over Ogden while senior Sam Hardaway tallied 11 points, including several key buckets in the fourth quarter of Tuesday’s win. Kassie Lamoureux also added nine points on three-of-four shooting, giving the Rams four players with at least eight points. Cunningham is averaging 9 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.5 steals through two games. As a team, the Rams are averaging 12 steals per game, which has led to several fast break opportunities.
The Perry victory had the feel of a seismic shift upward, as the girls drank in the moment, celebrating their unblemished start to the 2017-18 season. The 63 points Greene County put on the board Tuesday were the most the Rams scored since a 65-52 victory over CMB on Jan. 20, 2015, nearly a two year span.
“We won and that second quarter is where the game was won,” Lyons said. “We’ve been working on this for a lot of years. We enjoy it for one day and come back and play Gilbert.”
The Rams host the Tigers Friday, Dec. 1 at 6 p.m. in Jefferson. The HOIC foe was 9-14 a year ago with a sweep of Greene County, including a 56-17 drubbing Feb. 7. The Rams are off for six days following the home tilt as they travel to Saydel Thursday, Dec. 7 for another HOIC match up.