On a night full of electricity and anticipation, in front of a spirited McClain crowd, the McClain Lady Tigers brought their A-game against the Circleville Lady Tigers Wednesday at Adena High School.
After losing the first matchup between the two teams on Dec. 23 by 15 points at Circleville, the McClain Lady Tigers were seeking to settle the score – choosing the spotlight of the sectional tournament semifinal to do just that. The McClain ladies soundly defeated Circleville and sent them out of the tournament with a 50-30 win.
The story of the night before the game started was Taylor Polley needing 18 points to reach her 1000th point. After the game started, though, the story quickly became the tenacious defense of McClain shutting Circleville down, and not just beating them, but beating them in convincing style, allowing them to advance to the sectional championship game against the Chillicothe Lady Cavaliers this Saturday.
In the first game against Circleville back in December, Jordan Blakeman of Circleville was the star of the show. In that game, she had 21 points and seemed to have her way on the floor. Clearly the team leader, she entered Wednesday night’s game with similar expectations. History would have repeated itself had it not been for Maddy Stegbauer and the MHS Lady Tiger defense. Stegbauer was charged with guarding Blakeman, and after the game, McClain girls coach Jarrod Haines had high praise for the sophomore.
“If you want to talk about the story, it’s the team defense we played tonight,” he said. “Maddy Stegbauer on Jordan Blakeman was the story, and all four of our kids having her back and helping her out. I felt we did a tremendous job. That was a great defensive effort, probably our best of the year.”
Blakeman was the leading scorer for the CHS Lady Tigers with 10 points as they struggled to score amid the swarming defense of Greenfield. In addition to the lackluster scoring for Circleville was the number of turnovers throughout the game, giving McClain ample chances to score.
On offense, McClain was patient and able to move the ball around efficiently, taking it to Polley and Malea Montavon with ease. Polley was the top scorer for McClain with 19 points, followed by Montavon with 11.
When asked after the game what he thought the difference was in contrast to the teams’ first meeting, Haines said, “We just took better care of the basketball. We had a game plan and we executed it and we played with a sense of urgency… We played great team defense and great team offense, and came away with the win.”
It took the whole game and several attempts, but Polley finally reached the 1,000-point mark with only 22.3 seconds showing on the clock.
As she drove the ball near the top of the key, she was sandwiched by two Circleville defenders and was fouled. Because McClain was in the double bonus, Polley was awarded two free throws, the first of which was her 1,000th point. After a moment of celebration, Polley sunk the second freethrow with ease.
Coach Haines talked proudly about his point guard after the game. “Taylor’s worked hard, and she’s had some struggles this year with an injury, and her teammates were happy for her. The kids out there played with her all year and the four seniors stuck together… We are super excited for them and proud of her.”
When the clock ran out, the Lady Tigers ran off the floor to thunderous applause from the hometown faithful and through the tunnel of their biggest fans, the student section, who had come down on floor to congratulate them.
With the win, McClain moves to 13-10 overall on the season and earns a ticket to the girls Division II Southeast District sectional championship game against the Chillicothe Lady Cavaliers Saturday at 1 p.m. at Adena High School in Frankfort.
McClain — 7 10 17 16 — 50
Circleville — 5 9 7 9 — 30
MHS: Montgomery — 1-1/3-3; Stegbauer 2(1)-1/2-8; Malea Montavon 1(3)-11; Polley 4-11/17-19; Barton 2-4/6-8; Kegley 1/2-1
CHS: Delong 1(1)-1/2-6; T. Bircher (1)-3; Hoop 1-2; M. Bircher 1(1)-5; Kendrick 1-2; Blakeman 2(1)-2/3-10; McIlroy 1-2
Mark Branham is a contributing sportswriter for The Times-Gazette.