Dateline – Druid Hills, Ga. On Wednesday evening the Lady Cougars intruded into the Gym of the Cross Keys Indians to join basketball battle in the most intense and dramatic contest of the season. Marking the third season of this budding rivalry between the public school and Cottage, the visitors narrowly missed an opportunity to secure their first ever victory against a Georgia High School Association opponent.
The first eight minutes of the contest set the tone for the rest of the evening, a glorified rock fight between two determined opponents. After several unfruitful possessions for both squads, Brandy Michelle Finnell Michelle broke the scoring draught with a shot delivered from the post. A few moments later, fellow post presence Julia Baumohl went to the foul line to convert a free throw. The score stood at a 3 – nil TCS advantage as the game sagged into a defensive war of attrition. TCS guard Natalia Hoeve later banked home a jump shot on a strong ball reversal to secure her first score of the season. The Lady Indians retaliated with a foul shot from their point guard Jalen, and a three point dagger. As the buzzer sounded, Cottage escaped with a 5 – 4 lead. Arrival of the second stanza did little to alter the defensive tenor. Over the course of the period Finnell worked her post magic to connect on a short banker, while speedster Maria Knezek scored two baskets of her own, while Cross Keys ground out 7 points to knot the match at 11 points each at the half. The halftime reprieve took on a somewhat subdued tone as the coaches initiated concussion protocol in the aftermath of Hoeve’s hard fall to the floor near the end of the quarter.
The second half began in most frustrating fashion for the Lady Cougars. Nothing flowed offensively, and it seemed as though gremlins nailed covers over the baskets during the halftime break. Cross Keys battled their way to 6 points in the third quarter, while Cottage only managed a single Knezek foul shot. Now enjoying a six point lead, the support of a raucous crowd, and observing the clear signs of physical fatigue, it felt as though the Lady Indians could achieve a breakthrough early in the fourth and put the game out of reach. Instead the Lady Cougars fought fire with fire, responding with a furious final push, led by the hard charging Knezek. Generating a flurry of turnovers, Cottage closed the gap to a single point on the strength of a Knezek free throw. Now the Lady Indians responded to the challenge, nailing two late buckets of their own, allowing them to maintain a three point edge. With 25.9 seconds showing on the clock, and with Cross Keyes possessing the ball, TCS called time. The plan called for an intentional foul if the team could not force the quick turnover. The home town team found a guard to receive the inbounds pass, who adroitly evaded her defender. A quick thinking Baumohl grabbed a fistful of white jersey from an off ball player. Inattentive referees delayed the intentional foul call for a couple of precious seconds, but the play did achieve the objective of stopping the clock. In the ensuing inbounds play, Cottage came up with the ball, but could not convert as time expired. In the end, Cross Keys escaped with a 25 -22 victory.
Although ending in a loss, TCS sports fans will long remember this game as among the most theatric and gutty performances in the storied history of Lady Cougars basketball.
Maxine Moore, Alex Nebel, and Finley Love all checked to complement guard play during this game. Nebel made her first appearance in the first quarter, assisting on Hoeve’s bank shot. She also corralled a rebound and forced a steal. Although Nebel did not find the range on any of her shots, she took the jump shots needed in the flow of the offense, and prevented the defense from sagging with suffocating effectiveness on the post players. Moore also provided relief in the second quarter, helping to maintain defensive intensity in the zone set. Sixth grader Finley Love gave relief near the end of the pressure filled third period. Love did not allow her youth and relative inexperience to intimidate her. Without skipping a beat, Love launched a shot jump shot in an inbounds play, helped to advance the ball up the court, and tore into the paint in pursuit of a defensive rebound.
Emily Daugherty also came off the bench in her now patented sixth man position. Due to a Tracy Li injury, Daugherty spent most of the night in the post. She did not score in this match, but hit the boards hard for 9 rebounds (4 offensive).
The three headed backcourt hydra of Natalia Hoeve, Natalie Yager, and Maria Knezek continued to work their magic. Despite missing the entire second half, Hoeve contributed greatly to her team’s effort with her first quarter hoop, and an offensive rebound. Yager filled the role of distributor par excellence, pacing the squad with 3 assists. Defensively, Yager also blocked a shot (her second of the season), thieved the ball 4 times, and assaulted the backboards for 8 rebounds (3 offensive). Knezek hauled in 3 rebounds, gained an assist, while leading the game with 7 steals, and also recording a blocked shot. Offensively, Knezek saved her best for last, as she pumped in nine fourth quarter points in route to her career high of 14 big points.
The post stalwarts of Julia Baumohl and Brandy Michell Finnell also imposed their will on the outcome of the match. Despite fighting off a full blown cold, Baumohl attacked the boards with the reckless abandon of a wounded bear, coming down with 15 (7 offensive). Additionally, she stole a ball, blocked a shot, and recorded a free throw. Over the past three games, Finnell checked in with one of the most dominating rebounding runs in the history of the program. On this night Finnell savaged the Lady Indians frontcourt for 16 (count them 16!) rebounds, even distributed between takes from the offensive and defensive ends of the court. Finnell also forced 3 steals, and scored 5 points, despite carrying caravans of white jerseys on her back all game long.