By Ben Murphy
Clare turned what had been a close game at the half into a convincing 58-39 at Mt. Pleasant Sacred Heart Monday night, much to the pleasure of head coach Matt Rodenbo.
“I think we stepped it up,” he said. “They know that coming down here is a tough place to play. Anytime you can come out of here with a double-digit win, you have to be happy.”
For the early portion of the contest, a game that featured two squads listed as honorable-mentions on their respected polls, the squads traded baskets.
Class ‘D’ Sacred Heart struck first on an offensive rebound and a basket by Erica Hansen, but Melissa Benchley answered that quickly for class ‘B’ Clare with a 16-footer from the right side of the court.
Winter knocked down a pair of free-throws to put Clare up 4-2, and Courtney English knocked down a mid-range shot giving Clare a 6-2 edge.
The Lady Fighting Irish closed the quarter on an 8-2 run, with Benchley ending the streak on a fast-break basket as time expired on the first frame to make it 10-8 in favor of Sacred Heart entering the second.
S-H took a 12-10 lead on a basket by Riley Terwilliger, but Winter answered, getting a three-pointer from straight-away to fall in, after rolling around the rim briefly. The kind roll gave Clare a 13-12 lead which they extended to 16-12 on an English three-ball and Winter made it 21-14 on a straight-on three-pointer from three-feet behind the arc.
The Irish closed the gap to 21-20 on a put-back basket by Averi Gamble, but Benchley drilled a deep two-pointer before the half to put Clare up 23-20 at the break.
The Pioneers rolled in the third, starting the frame on a 14-0 run to lead 37-20, with Winter capping the scoring streak off with a steal and fast-break basket.
S-H scored eight points the rest of the frame, but Clare led 44-28 entering the fourth.
“We cut down our turnovers, I think we were a little tight coming out of the gate,” Rodenbo said of his squad’s play in the second half. “The second half we got our feet under us and limited our turnovers.”
English hit a quick shot to put the Pioneers up 46-28 early in the fourth, and Winter followed that with her third three-pointer of the night to go up 49-28.
S-H failed to get the game back to under 20 points until the final minute of the contest.
Winter finished with a game high 31 points and also added six steals and five rebounds, English had 11 points, Benchley had 10 points and six steals, Corrine Wezensky had four points and seven boards, Alex Stark had two points and Ashley Petree had five rebounds and five assists.
“Wezensky had a big game,” Rodenbo said. “She boxed out and did a lot of good things. Some things she did defensively, you won’t see in the scorebook. What she did was very key for us.”
On Saturday, the Lady Pioneers made easy work at Harrison, topping the Lady Hornets 68-23 in Jack Pine Conference play.
Clare led 24-2 after the first, 51-10 at the half and 62-14 entering the fourth.
Winter scored 21 points to lead Clare, English had 15, Benchley had eight and Stark had five.
Harrison was led by Hillary Brewer with six points and Brandi Powell had five.
On Thursday, Jan. 31 Clare continued its undefeated run in the JPC, topping visiting Meridian 67-17.
English hit a pair of three-pointers in the first and Stark knocked down one to get Clare off to a 25-3 lead after the first and Winter netted eight with English putting in seven, including another three pointer to make it 51-9 at the half.
With a running clock most of the second half, Clare outscored the Lady Mustangs 14-6 in the third with both teams netting two points in the fourth.
Winter finished with 18 points to lead Clare, English had 17, Petree had eight and Stark had five.
Clare (14-1, 11-0) played at Roscommon on Thursday, hosts Gaylord on Saturday and hosts McBain on Monday.