Dateline – Norcross, Ga. In a rematch of an early December game, your Lady Cougars faced off against the Lady Hawks of Al Falah Academy. The previous contest featured a heart stopping, come from behind victory for TCS, in perhaps the most physical basketball throw down in the history of the ladies’ program.
As the players returned to basketball action from their nearly three week hiatus from the sport, everyone expected to observe a degree of rustiness on the court. While the game certainly featured a number of miscues by each team, the coaches, fans, and players received great gratification from the effort expended from opening tip to the final buzzer.
In a nod toward the limited court time offered by Roswell Parks and Recreation, the officials collapsed the game into two sixteen minute halves, with a three minute intermission. The first half appeared in many ways to recapture the spirit of the December 1st encounter. Players liberally employed their hips, elbows, shoulders, and arms as defensive implements, giving the game all of the ebb and flow of a tractor pull on a spectacularly muddy field. Senior Brandy Michelle Finnell connected on an early free throw, while Junior teammate Maria Knezek banked home a short jump shot on a reversal to stake out an early lead. Not wanting to concede their home court advantage so quickly, Al Falah ground out four buckets of their own, allowing them to close out the first half with a tenuous 8 – 7 lead.
During the half, the Lady Cougars reviewed the need to better defend the boards, and to find ways to open up the offense. Finley Love entered the game to start the second half to spell a fatigued Alex Nebel. In the first offensive foray, Love dribbled the ball on the right side of the paint in a broken play. Finding that her defender successfully blocked further passage to the goal, Finley decided to square up off the dribble and let the ball fly. The ball touched nothing but net on the way down, granting the Cougars a lead that they would never again relinquish. On the next possession, Cottage made a fine defensive stop. Senior Natalie Yager delivered the ball to a streaking Love, who banked her layup home. For the balance of the game, the TCS lead see-sawed from one to four points. Every time Al Falah landed a haymaker, Maria Knezek retaliated with one of her own, as she pumped in 12 big second half points. Nursing a two point lead with a little over sixty tics left on the clock, Al Falah gained possession, but found their offense short circuited by a Knezek steal and score. Again the Lady Hawks attempted to active their offense, only to find themselves in a prison yard lockdown. Nebel emerged with the ball to spark a final offensive foray that ended with a turnover. The home town team tired one last time, but again staunch defense turned back their efforts. As the buzzer sounded, the scoreboard revealed that the Lady Cougars prevailed by a 25 – 21 score.
The victory marked the first time since 2011 that a Lady Cougars squad swept a two game set from a G.I.S.A. school. In 2011 the Lady Cougars (led by seniors Emily Moore, Irena Rundlett, and Lindsay Kandel) bested Atlanta Girls’ School twice.
Senior stalwarts Julia Baumohl, and Brandy Michelle Finnell anchored the post positions at the start of the game. Baumohl tore down 4 rebounds, gained 2 steals, and connected on a short jumper for two points. She also tricked an Al Falah defender into fouling her in the act of shooting. Finnell carried the rebounding load on her back, hauling down a game high 11 boards. In addition to her free throw, Finnell also added an assist and a steal, and sacrificed her body with a couple of her patented dives to the hardwoods.
Emily Daugherty, Tracy Li, Maxine Moore, Hannah Katz, and Finley Love all contributed as reserves. Li entered the game early to spell Finnell, and mixed it up admirably with the physical Al Falah frontline. Moore and Katz also checked in during the furious first half. With the game resting on a razor’s edge, both players helped to maintain their team’s defensive intensity. Daugherty seemed poised for a big game as she earned a trip to the foul line, passed for an assist, and wrangled her way to 4 boards. Unfortunately, an errant elbow demolished her glasses, necessitating her removal from the balance of the game. Love granted her team a real spark off the bench, as she notched the first two scores of the second half.
For this game Alex Nebel joined Natalie Yager and Maria Knezek to form the three headed backcourt. Nebel forced three steals (including the big one as time ran down), dished the ball for two assists, and came down with a rebound. Yager gathered an offensive rebound of her own, tied up numerous loose balls, distributed 2 assists, and also came up with 3 steals. On this night the offensive accolades went to Maria Knezek who rang up a career high 18 points, all gained on a variety of short jumpers, fast break finishes, and determined drives into the lane. Every bit as significantly, Knezek also jumped to a career high 8 rebounds (including 5 from the offensive glass), to go with a matching 8 steals.
The Lady Cougars take to the road again on Friday to face the Terriers of Lyndon Academy.