Trojans’ Depth, Defensive Intensity Wears Down Pewamo-Westphalia

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Friday, December 6, 2019, 7:25 am
Mark Meyer

East Lansing sophomore forward Corrine Jones (15) guards Kiera Thelen during Thursday night’s game at Pewamo-Westphalia. (Photos by Jim Pivarnik)

The highs and lows, ups and downs or ebb and flow of any athletic contest or season can be a challenge for even the most mature of teams. To manage the good times and bad and simultaneously keep all hands on deck and the train on the track requires equal parts self-discipline and determination.

The East Lansing girls basketball team had plenty of good news to celebrate Thursday night in its season-opening 40-27 victory over defending Division 3 state champion Pewamo-Westphalia. Sophomore forward Corrine Jones, for example, had what head coach Rob Smith labeled a “breakout game,” scoring nine points including several key second-half baskets to keep the hosts from mounting a serious comeback.

The Trojans also benefited from the typically consistent, ultra-competitive play of seniors Ahlura Lofton and Sanaya Gregory (10 points) and sophomore Soraya Timms (9 points, including 4 of 4 free throws). Senior transfer Sug Williams shook off some early foul trouble and senior guard Aaliyah Nye battled through a less-than-stellar shooting performance to help control the ball in the fourth quarter when Smith decided to run some time off the clock.

Aaliyah Nye blocks a shot by P-W’s Addison Bauer during the first half.

Those were good parts. The negative news came earlier in the day when junior forward Annelise Lebeda found out that the knee strain she suffered in Tuesday’s practice likely is more serious than originally thought. She sat at the end of the bench with her right knee in a brace from mid-thigh to lower calf.

“You hate to see that,” Smith said. “We’re ninety-five percent sure it’s an ACL injury, and she’s likely done for the season. But we wanted to dedicate this game to her. Great kid, super student — but she’s down right now.”

Lebeda’s season-ending injury will limit some of the Trojans’ lineup flexibility but the host Pirates found out there’s plenty of depth behind her. Smith subbed freely throughout the game, and the relentless defensive pressure eventually became too much for Pewamo-Westphalia to counter.

“Great atmosphere for a girls basketball game, and we’re grateful they were able to come over here to play,” said Pewamo-Westphalia head coach Steve Eklund, now in his 11th season. “We won’t see that type of ball pressure for the rest of the season, or at least not until the very end [of the season].

“They’re Class A [Division 1] favorites for a reason: they can defend.”

The pregame huddle.

The swarming East Lansing defense forced P-W into 11 first half turnovers, and the visitors built a 19-12 lead by halftime. P-W, however, played its best three minutes of the game to open the second half by coring seven straight points to tie the game at 19 on back-to-back baskets by senior forward Hannah Spitzley.

But Jones scored 6 of the Trojans’ next 11 points to widen the margin to nine by the end of the third quarter.

“Our players, to their credit, were able to match the intensity that the home team brought,” Smith said. “For that, I am so proud of them.”

Next up for the Trojans is an away date Tuesday, Dec. 10, at Williamston.


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