By Ben Murphy
With their win streak extended to 14 games, it’s safe to say the Clare Lady Pioneers are clicking on all cylinders. The latest piece of evidence was Wednesday night’s 79-52 thrashing of visiting McBain.
“We shot the ball well again tonight,” Clare head coach Matt Rodenbo said. “We had nine threes, that has to be close to a season high. McBain is a good, physical team. We matched their physicalness and their aggressiveness which was nice to see.”
Despite the lopsided final, it was McBain that led the early portion of the non-conference girls basketball contest. Sophomore Meredith Hamlet scored on an early fast-break opportunity and followed that up with a drive through the lane for another basket to give the Lady Ramblers a 6-3 lead. Madison Barnette added a fast-break hoop of her own to extend McBain’s margin to 8-3 midway through the opening quarter.
“We knew we had to limit them to one shot,” McBain head coach Todd Hamlet said. “When we did that we were doing well. But when we didn’t box out they got second chances and they got us good.”
Courtney English and Lindsay Winter hit baskets on Clare’s next two possessions to cut the McBain lead to 8-7, but Hamlet drilled a three-pointer from straight-on to make it 11-7.
McBain put its lead back to five when Haley Koetje hit a pair of free-throws to make the score 13-8 late in the first.
Clare closed the quarter on a quick 5-0 run, started with a three-pointer by Melissa Benchley and capped off with a lay-in by Corrine Wezensky on an assist by Winter to deadlock the score at 13-all after the first.
Benchley and Hamlet traded three-pointers early in the second to keep the score close with a slim 22-20 Clare lead, however Clare finished the half on an 18-3 run to take control of the game.
A free-throw by Wezensky got the run started, with English following that up with a three-ball to make it 26-20. Wezensky hit the first of two free-throws to make it 27-20, and though she missed the second Liz Fancon put back the miss to make it 29-20.
English followed that up with her third three-pointer of the night to go up 32-20 and the run was capped off by four straight free-throws by Ashley Petree to make it 40-23 at the half.
“When you play against a good team you’re going to feel each other out a bit,” Rodenbo said of his team’s slow start. “I thought we missed some easy shots early on, I think that was because we were so fired up for the game. We had a real nice second quarter, we made some adjustments defensively and the girls picked it up.”
Clare quickly padded its lead to 46-23 early in the third quarter on a pull-up jumper by Winter. Barnette tried to get McBain back in the contest with a three-pointer, though English answered with a three-ball of her own to keep Clare up 49-26.
English would go on to hit her fifth and final three later in the third, helping Clare to a commanding 64-36 lead entering the final quarter.
McBain got a three-pointer by Sam Bode early in the fourth and Asia Lagrow had five points in the frame as the Ramblers outscored Clare 16-15 in the final frame to account for the final.
“A lot of credit goes to Clare, they’re a great team,” Hamlet said. “My kids aren’t going to give up, they’ll keep playing hard.”
Clare was led by Winter with 22 points, eight rebounds, eight assists and two steals, English had 18 points, Petree had 14 points, eight rebounds, three steals and two assists, Benchley had 11 points, five rebounds and three assists, Wezensky had six points and 16 rebounds, Fancon had four points, Amanda Yats had two and Tara Pummell and Kodi Humphrey both had one.
“English, she’s just had a great year, I couldn’t be more proud of her,” Rodenbo said. “Benchley, I thought she hit some huge shots for us and played fantastic defense. She had to chase around the Hamlet girl all night and she still had 11 points. I thought that was outstanding. Winter had her typical night, she was very strong with the ball. We had four girls in double figures, you win a lot of ball games when you do that.”
McBain was led by Hamlet with 25 points, Barnette had nine, Lagrow and Kiena Westdorp both had five, Bode had three, Haley Koetje had four, Kate Overmyer had two and Katie O’Keefe had one.
On Saturday, Feb. 9 the Lady Pioneers hosted non-league Gaylord, winning 80-54.
Clare netted 24 points in the first quarter to take a 24-13, though Gaylord closed that gap to 41-34 at the half.
Clare used strong third and fourth quarters to pull away for the win, outscoring Gaylord 21-12 in the third and 18-8 in the fourth.
“Gaylord is a solid team,” Rodenbo said. “We just played very well.”
Winter led Clare with 25 points, English had 17, Wezensky had 11, Petree had nine points and eight rebounds and Benchley had nine points.
Clare (16-1, 11-0) hosted Gladwin on Thursday, plays at Roscommon on Tuesday in a make up contest and plays at Farwell on Thursday, Feb. 21 to finish the regular season.