BEECHER CITY — Central A&M played like the talented, veteran team it is on Thursday.
Cowden-Herrick/Beecher City played brilliantly at times, but also played like a young team that’s replacing four starters for stretches as well.
In the end, the latter proved too much for the Lady Hornets to overcome in a 57-47 loss to a team many feel will contend for a Class 1A state title.
“We’ve got a lot of little holes to fill — I knew that, and of course everybody else knew that coming out,” CHBC head coach Carolyn Wendte said of her team. “They did well tonight considering a lot of these kids don’t have a lot of floor experience.”
CHBC came out on fire, racing out to a 9-2 lead, but saw that lead quickly evaporate due to a rash of turnovers to end the quarter and a 18-7 second quarter advantage had the Lady Raiders leading by 11 at halftime.
Central A&M looked like it might cruise after CHBC came out sluggish in the second half, but Micah Jones spearheaded a furious comeback that had the game tied at 43 just inside the five-minute mark.
But the Lady Raiders closed out strong, finishing off the game on a 11-2 run to escape with a win.
“They responded and they are a good team,” Wendte said. “Not too upset. We held our own and we know what we need to work on.”
One thing CHBC will definitely need to work on is free throw shooting. The Lady Hornets (1-1) were just 8 for 21 from the line on the night, including 6 for 15 shooting from the charity stripe in the second quarter.
But that wasn’t the only struggle that helped the Lady Raiders seize control of the game, as CHBC made just 1 of 7 field goals in the frame and committed six turnovers.
Ryan Dooley’s buzzer-beater gave A&M a 31-20 lead at halftime, a stunning turn of events after the host team’s early domination.
“We were hoping just to stay with them, and when it started off 9-2, I thought here we go again,” said Lady Raiders coach Tom Dooley, whose team was blown out on its home floor by CHBC a year ago. “But we’ve got a veteran team and they shook off the rust and responded.”
Four quick turnovers by CHBC to start the second half gave every indication that things would not improve, but Jones decided to take over the game soon after, scoring nine of her 11 third-quarter points in the final three minutes of the frame.
Chandler Ward completed CHBC’s comeback from 12 down with a game-tying 3-pointer with about five minutes remaining in the game.
But the Lady Hornets never took a lead, and 3-pointers on consecutive possessions by Taylor Jordan and Heaton put Central A&M back in control. A pair of free throws following CHBC’s 21st turnover with just under three minutes to go put A&M up six, and the Lady Raiders never looked back.
The Lady Hornets finished with 21 turnovers on the night and had just three 3-pointers.
“Last year I could rely on my inside-out game, and right now I’m looking for my outside game,” Wendte said. “I will find me some outside shooters so that they can’t just double and triple team Micah on the inside all the time.”
Despite the latter, Jones was pretty much unstoppable, finishing with game highs of 26 points, 13 rebounds and four blocks. She would have had an even bigger night had she not missed eight free throws.
A&M struggled at the charity stripe as well, making just 14 of 31.
“We’re a good free-throw shooting team,” Dooley said. “But you wouldn’t know that by tonight.”
Despite the loss, there were many positives for CHBC. After scoring 91 points against Neoga in a season-opening win, the Lady Hornets held A&M in check. And Wendte knows her young team will improve as the season goes along.
“We’re just not gelled together yet,” Wendte said. “We just haven’t had enough floor time. They’re spurty. I guess I wish they were quite so spurty and we were more consistent. But I think that‚'s just our lack of experience on the floor.
"I look for good things from this team,‚" Wendte said. ‚"I think we'll be a little bit of a sleeper. We're gonna work hard and I think by the end of the season will be right there in the middle of the pack."