By Jason Hoekema
There is a song that says to dance with the one that brought you and you can’t go wrong. This was the case against Salem on Thursday, Jan. 31 as Ashton Bewley worked through four periods to keep Ava afloat in a game where they were outgunned by a stout Salem offense.
The first strike would be credited to Salem’s Taylor Norris, a top-notch offensive player who can create shots in-spite of solid defensive coverage. Her shooting led to 22 points for the night for the Lady Tigers.
The Ava bench was slow to start, making only nine points against Salem’s 16 in the first. Eden Little and Lauren Mendel put in a combined six, with three free points from Bewley and freshman Hanna Evans.
On the other side of the court, Salem took-off with threes from Norris and Makenzie Whittaker plus twos from across the visiting roster to make a run of 10. It wasn’t until Mendel finally stopped the onslaught with a field goal in the fourth minute of the game that the Lady Bears came-to.
“We’ve done that a few times this year, where we’ve come out and been flat offensively,” said coach Nathan Houk after the game. “We’ve gotten good shots, just didn’t put them in the basket.”
Missing shots was not the only problem the Lady Bears needed to work through. Players like Hanna Evans and Eden Little were making defensive plays to break up attacks from the Salem offense.
Hanna Evans made a big denial by swatting the ball away from the offense on a shot with 5:40 left in the first quarter. Little added to the defensive action with a steal 20 seconds later. The ball found its’ way to Bewley who shot from the arc, but she hit the steel and the ball rebounded right back to Salem.
Little was able to get at least five steals through the course of the game, making points on a layup by Little in the first period. She was able to revisit the bucket but wouldn’t finesse the fall enough to get it to fall in.
The Lady Bears normally shoot and sink some threes, but several missed shots kept the Lady Bears in an offensive slump.
Faced with a well-seasoned Salem team, some of Ava’s rotation would not find a lot of time on the maple for the extra points that have helped Ava succeed.
“We only played seven kids tonight because we were playing a really-experienced Salem team,” said coach Nathan Houk. “Aside of (Bella Jadwin) they played a lot of juniors and seniors. They’ve got a really strong upper class.”
Ashton Bewley, the senior with a career-high 28 points, was making it happen on the court. Scoring 15 points in the second period alone, she was also credited with three big assists to Lauren Mendel who was able to take the pass and get it in for six points to come back within three of the Lady Tigers before the break.
Bewley wasn’t necessarily sinking field goals, but she was pulling fouls from the Salem defense who racked up 10 in the first half. Five of those took Bewley to the free throw line, shooting 11 of 12 in the first half.
The Salem bench did not cut any breaks for the Lady Bears, scoring 17 points to maintain a three-point lead into the break.
With a big second period, momentum was gathering on the Ava bench. A halftime talk and early appearance on the court to practice shots usually do the trick to turn a game around. The Lady Bears just were not able to get things going in their favor.
“What we talked about and what we did were two different things,” said Houk. “We talked about how the first three or four or five minutes of the quarter could decide the game. We had to come out and make a run offensively. We turned it over a couple times, and (Salem) got the ball in the basket. Two minutes into the quarter (and) before you know it, we went from down three to down 11.”
The Lady Bears were only able to muster up ten points against the 20 from Salem. Bewley sunk two field goals plus an and-one in the third. Even with two from Hanna Evans and a three from Little, the Bears fell into a 13-point deficit at the end of the third period.
INTO HER OWN
Freshman Hanna Evans should become a force to be reckoned with as she continues her high school basketball career. She can shoot from deep and chip-in twos from four to six feet out, shooting above the defense with jump shots.
She has a career-high of 16 points according to statistics kept by the Herald, and is able to contribute double digits and help swing plays on both ends of the court. She made her 16 against Mountain Grove on Dec. 17 and ten on Conway on Jan. 25th at the Mansfield Tournament.
“She’s only a freshman,” said Houk. “These are the first 19, 20 games of her offensive High School offensive career. She does a lot of good things for us that that don’t go up on a stat sheet. She struggles at times but she’s going to be a really good player for us to watch in the future.”
Salem’s Taylor Norris shot for 22 points on the Ava defense in three quarters of play. She missed an and-one pulled in the third, but with eight field goals and two threes to her name, she was a force that was difficult to contain.
She’s really good, I mean she’s hard to keep in front of you,” said Houk. “Outside of the Stone girl and the Piper girl from Mountain View-Liberty, she’s probably the fastest kid we’ve played all year. She has great ball-handling skills and she’s just really hard to keep in front of. She does a nice job in getting to the basket.”
Bewley shot for 34 points, Hanna Evans for three, Lauren Mendel with 10, and Little with seven. The Lady Bears shot 75-percecnt from the free throw line with Bewley making nine trips throughout the game. Bewley is also credited with three assists to Mendel, who was able to make six points of the last-second passes under the hoop.
The Lady Bears move on with their season at 12-8 overall and are 4-5 in the South Central Association. The Lady Bears continue playing at home against Norwood on Feb. 4 and against Bradleyville on Feb. 7.