The Mount Gilead girls’ basketball team showed a lot of resilience Wednesday in earning a hard-fought 44-42 home win over Utica, just days after the community suffered a loss.
On Saturday, Joseph Long passed away. He had owned the End Zone Restaurant, had coached in the Mount Gilead football program and had a daughter, Olivia, on the Indian girls’ basketball team — making focusing on a contest a difficult thing for the players to do.
“It was hard for our girls to mentally dial in today,” said head coach Nick Vukovich. “There was a lot of emotion going on and we were trying to be as respectful as possible to everything going on around us and giving the girls an opportunity to process in their own way. We were half focused and half not and that’s not on the girls — that’s on the events going on because it’s such a big loss for our community. It’s hard to try to get the girls refocused when everybody was really close with him.”
The team’s defense got them off to a good start in the contest, as they held the Redskins to only one basket and one free throw over the opening eight minutes. Meanwhile, two three-pointers by Ava Baker and four points from Aubrey Thomas allowed MG to open up a 10-3 advantage.
Utica would surge in front in the second quarter, though. Both Abby Dickson and Emily Meyers connected twice from three-point range to give their team a 16-14 lead with 2:34 left in the half. However, the Indians would finish the quarter on a run to regain the advantage.
Thomas tied the game with a bucket and Baker hit her fourth three of the half to put MG up 19-16. Dickson would make it a one-point game with a basket, but Danielle Pohlkotte closed out the half with a three-pointer, allowing the Indians to go to the locker room with a 22-18 lead.
Vukovich noted that his team gets results with a group mentality, noting that he expects different girls to step up on a game-by-game basis. On this night, Baker hit six three-pointers, while Thomas also reached double figures while also being a force rebounding.
“Our team is not about one player,” he said. “We don’t have one player we have to rely on. We have five players and we have our bench players who come in. Any given night, a girl’s going to step up for us offensively. Aubrey was amazing tonight on the boards. She outworked everybody. She outworked the Utica team, she outworked our team. She just wanted it more and it showed tonight.”
The third quarter played out much like the second. Two three-pointers by Dickson helped Utica jump in front 25-22 and the team maintained a three-point advantage with less than 90 seconds remaining in the period. However, Thomas would connect on back-to-back shots in the final minute to give MG a 33-32 lead going into the fourth.
Baker would open the final quarter with a three, but Utica responded with five straight points from Dickson to regain the lead at 37-36. A free throw by Faith White tied the game, though, and Pohlkotte connected from the field to make it a 39-37 advantage for the Indians with 3:28 left in regulation.
Dickson hit from long range again to put Utica on top by one, but Greer Simpson responded with a three-pointer. With under a minute to play, Dickson tallied two points to tie the game at 42, but Simpson immediately responded with the game-winning bucket at the 35 second mark and Mount Gilead was able to come up big on defense to preserve the win.
Baker tallied 18 points on her six three-pointers, while Thomas finished with 12. Vukovich was proud of his team for the heart they showed against the Redskins.
“A W’s a W right now,” he said. “It wasn’t one of our best games. We were undisciplined in the first half, but I thought the girls showed the resiliency that they had for the last couple years. They wanted it and made big plays down the stretch that helped us out.”
Rob Hamilton can be reached at 419-946-3010, ext. 1807. Connect with him on Twitter at @SportsMCS