By Joe Gisondi
Charleston coach Jeff Miller had plenty to be upset about Thursday night.
Especially after Mt Zion sophomore forward Abby Scharf had grabbed a loose ball just outside the three-point line, then turned, twisted and heaved up a desperation shot with less than a second left that gave the Braves a 70-67 Apollo Conference victory at Baker Gym.
Or after Charleston had relinquished a 10-point lead entering the fourth quarter.
And he justifiably could have been dismayed in how Mt. Zion went on an 11-2 run over a three-minute span thanks to pressure that led to several steals, multiple turnovers, two full-court passes that yielded easy layups and a possession where the Braves snagged five offensive rebounds before scoring.
Yet, Miller smiled as he sat in the bleachers afterward, considering the potential of a team that starts four freshmen and a junior – and which regularly plays another freshman.
“I love my kids’ effort,” Miller said. “I love their effort. We just have to clean up some things.”
The Trojans, which have relied heavily on all-state guard Shae Littleford, just missed having three players score in double-figures. Littleford scored a team-high 26, 16 coming in the second half, and freshman teammate Delaney Meister scored nine.
Miller thought the team played a little better in the last-minute win over Mahomet last Thursday, and he was unhappy that his team turned over the ball more than he would have liked. But he appreciated the effort of his young squad.
“When we’re so young, we know that every game is gonna be like this,” he said. “And we know that going in (to every game). We had our chances tonight. We battled. We knew we’d have to weather the storm because they were gonna make some runs on us – especially with the young team that we have. I thought the girls did a pretty good job. Just too many turnovers.”
Alycia Triplett might have had the most impressive performance of the night. The freshman scored a game-high 16 points in the first half, snagged 14 rebounds and nearly recorded double-figures in steals. She finished with 18 points, eight more than her season average.
Triplett said she had worked on her rebounding this past weekend, doing some two-on-three drills that, she said, helped her box out better and play more aggressively.
“In the last few games,” Triplett said, “I didn’t feel like I was getting my boards as I should have been. You have to fight for the ball.”
Said Miller: “I thought she did an amazing job on the boards.”
Triplett also recorded multiple steals, including one at the start of the fourth quarter when she snagged a pass from Mt. Zion, dribbled just past mid-court and fired a pass to Littleford, who made a short jumper to put the Trojans ahead 57-47 about 30 seconds into the final quarter.
“I just watched their eyes,” Triplett said. “I stayed disciplined and then anticipated their passes.”
Mt. Zion then went on its run to go ahead 60-59, capped by an easy layup by Taylor Fox with 4 1/2 minutes left in the game. A free-throw by Littleford tied the score a minute later.
During the next three minutes, the teams traded baskets. After a steal by Mt Zion made it 62-60, freshman Erin Blair passed to Meister near the basket for an unchallenged layup to again tie the score with just over two minutes left in the game.
A minute later, Blair caught an inbound pass from Littleford near the basket for an easy layup to make it 64-all with 1:10 remaining.
The Braves went ahead 67-64 when Emma Ewing drove the basket, made the shot and knocked down Triplett to earn a free throw that she converted with 54.9 seconds left.
The foul was Triplett’s fifth, forcing her out of the game.
Charleston responded with a basket by Littleford that made it 67-66. Shelby Herrington, another freshman, stole a long pass at mid-court 11 seconds later the led to Littleford being fouled on a layup attempt. She made the second of two free-throws to tie score.
Mt. Zion then ran off clock before calling a timeout with 8.8 seconds remaining. Charleston played tight defensively after the ball was inbounded, Meister swatted the ball away and Scharf grabbed the ball with her back to the basket, contorting her body to fire off the shot that fell in for the win.
“We know it’s a process with these young girls,” Miller said, “to get them some confidence. We talk about that every day: That I’m not going to coach them like freshmen. I tell them that I’m going to coach them like a varsity athlete. They’ve gotten so much better. You ought to have seen how much they’ve improved. We’re competing every single game with these young girls. I’m proud of my girls. I’m really proud of them.”
Charleston dropped to 5-4 overall and 2-2 in the conference.
Goetten 0 0-0 0, Hutchins 1 0-0 3, Triplett 1 2-6 18, Meister 4 1-2 9, Blair 3 0-0 7, Littleford 11 3-6 26, Herrington 1 2-4 4. Team 28 8-18 67.
3-pointers – Hutchins 1, Blair 1, Littleford 1.
JV – Mt. Zion 45, Charleston 13.