After the Lady Lions basketball team for their first conference win against the Elmira Falcons, they welcomed the third-ranked Junction City Tigers into the Lions den for their primetime matchup on Jan. 21. Cottage Grove played some of their best defense all season and held with the Tigers all the way until the end.
But some late points strung together by Junction City would be enough to lift them over the hometown Lions 43-34.
“We definitely played better team basketball,” said Head Coach Erin Royse. “They’re a good team (Junction City) and I think our defensive intensity stepped up most of the time executing our defensive strategy and improved in blocking out not allowing so many offensive rebounds.”
Cottage Grove and Junction City were in a defensive battle early with not many points being scored in the opening quarter and each team causing turnovers. Gracie Arnold scored all six of the Lions points in the first quarter while Cienna Hartle scored all six Junction City points with the score being 6-6 at the end of the quarter.
The scored quarter went back and forth with the lead changing seemingly every possession. Emma Hitt’s three-pointer with 2:46 left in the half got the Lions lead to the biggest all night at 15-10. After a pair of free throws from Arnold, Junction City went on a 6-0 run to grab the lead before halftime. Brenna Wilson cut back door for a layup scoring the first points of the half and the Tigers leading 18-17 at the break.
“We just tried to really focus on our changes,” said Royse. “Bringing that intensity, a little more hustle, a lot more communication on defense and blocking out. We executed a little better in those areas and then tried to maintain that focus throughout the game. I’m hoping that we are turning the corner and just finding our chemistry. Digging in a little bit more on finding some grit to make things happen.”
The Lady Lions offense started slowly in the second half only scoring four points in the third quarter. Arnold found teammate Jerzie Epperson on the backside of the Tigers zone to keep Cottage Grove within striking distance going into the final quarter down only 27-21.
Midway through the final quarter, Hitt knocked down a three and was quickly followed by a steal on defense and converted into two more Lions points earning a roar from the home crowd and trimmed Junction City’s lead down to three 31-28. Unfortunately for Cottage Grove, Junction City’s Hartle took control of the game scoring eight individual points in the last two and a half minutes and expanding the Tigers lead back to double digits. Arnold scored the last three Cottage Grove points, but Junction City earned the win 43-34.
“Playing against those two teams in Marshfield and Junction City I think we got a wakeup call on how aggressive we need to be playing,” said Senior Forward Gracie Arnold. “Looking at the rest of the season I think we need to work on coming together and trusting our coaching staff. We know we’ve got some good teams in our league but anything can happen.”
Cottage Grove will have faced another top test playing Marist on Jan. 25 with the results to be determined after The Sentinel’s press time. Then will be on the road for their next two matchups against Siuslaw on Jan. 28 followed by Marshfield on Feb. 4.
18 points, 8 rebounds,
Emma Hitt 8 points
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