BY GREG FLINT
The girls’ basketball game between visiting Covington and Schlarman Academy was worthy of a bigger stage than a mere Tuesday night.
The contest had everything a fan could want — big-time individual play, smothering defenses, coaching ploys and countermoves and even referees who let the players determine the outcome by only whistling what had to be whistled.
In the end, Schlarman came out on top 53-48, but the outcome was still in doubt with just seconds remaining.
Covington took an early 6-2 lead as Andi Taylor hit a pair of three-pointers around a basket by Janelle Marion. The Trojans would remain in the lead through the end of the first quarter, which ended 15-10 in favor of the visitors.
Things changed in the second period as Aliah Larsen scored the first, and only, basket the Trojans would make in the quarter. Kendra Wallace would add a free throw with 5:39 left in the half, but that would be all the points for Covington until the third quarter.
Meanwhile, Schlarman began to close in and pass the Covington total — taking the lead on a trey by Holly Huckstadt that made it 19-18.
Sierra Bell would add two more baskets for the Hilltoppers before the halftime break to give the home team a 23-18 lead.
“Covington had the lead and started to hold the ball,” said Schlarman coach Keith Peoples. “We forced them into three straight turnovers and got the lead and then we could control the tempo — we could make them play basketball.”
Key for his team was the play of an ailing Bell who did not start after fighting flu symptoms earlier in the day. If Bell was still feeling ill at game time, the Trojans have no desire to see her at full strength as she scored 25 points on the night to lead all scorers.
Covington ended their seven-minute scoring drought when Avery Chezem got a steal and went the length of the floor for a lay-up that cut the Schlarman lead to three.
After a free throw for the hosts by Shelby Mascari, Regan Foster scored for the Trojans to cut their deficit to t 24-20.
Schlarman countered with a change in defense that led to a pair of Covington turnovers and follow-up baskets to push the margin back to six and force a Trojan time out.
After the break, Taylor hit another trey to halve the margin and the Covington coach McCoy changed his defense to a zone.
“Well, it worked for a couple of possession, but then the figured it out,” he said. “We went back to our man defense, but we kept trying different things.”
Peoples noticed the change in the Covington defenses and said he was pleased with how his team reacted.
“We adjusted and got people into the right places,” he explained. “We took whatever they gave us and that’s what we want to do.”
Schlarman pushed the lead to as many as eight points before taking a 37-30 lead into the final period.
Taylor hit her fourth trey of the night to open the quarter for Covington and Larsen added a free throw to bring the Trojans within three.
After a Bell basket, Taylor hit her fifth and final three-point to make the score 39-37 with 6:10 to go, but that was as close as the Trojans would get.
The Hilltoppers widened the lead as the quarter progressed, making free throws as they eventually got to the double bonus. Covington cut the margin to four with eight seconds left, but could only foul.
“Rebounding and free throws were the difference,” said McCoy after the game. “They made their free throws at the end and we didn’t.”
He said he liked how his team played at times, saying, “When we didn’t turn the ball over and we got into our sets, we played pretty well, but we had too many turnovers.”
Peoples gave credit to his defense for that, saying, “We tried to change defenses – putting pressure on their point guard and it worked for us tonight.”