Emmons looks for a pass

Hannibal’s Samantha Emmons looks for an open teammate during the Warriors’ loss to Henninger Tuesday.

HANNIBAL — “Continue to get better. Continue to grow.”

That’s been the message from Hannibal girls’ basketball coach Patrick Earley since the start of the season. And despite a 43-36 loss to Henninger on Tuesday, the Warriors did just that.

Although his team came out on the losing end, Earley said he felt the game was “a step in the right direction.”

“(Henninger’s) a really good team, that’s a (Class) AA school,” he said. “That’s a great non-conference challenge for our girls. … We’re not a finished product by any means, we’ve got some stuff to work on. But, overall, I was really happy with our effort tonight.”

In the first quarter, Hannibal jumped ahead, scoring seven unanswered points after Tayajah Scott opened the scoring with a layup for Henninger. Four points from Warriors’ Julia Shortslef paced Hannibal to a 9-5 lead after the first.

“I thought we did a lot of what we were trying to do,” Earley said. “We were able to turn them over a little bit with our press, we were able to speed them up, and we rebounded the ball really well in the first half.”

The Warriors continued to control play in the second quarter, using a 3-pointer and a pair of free throws from Samantha Emmons to stretch the lead to 16-8. Four more points from Scott for the Knights helped cut the lead to five, 18-13, heading into halftime.

In the third quarter, the scoring picked up quickly. Henninger’s duo of Scott and Inese Odom found a groove offensively, but Shortslef had a response. The senior scored 10 of Hannibal’s 14 points in the quarter.

“Julia does a lot for us,” Earley said. “We always ask Julia to do a lot for us.”

Shortslef’s big quarter sent the Warriors into the fourth with a 32-27 lead. With eight minutes left in the game, Earley’s message to his team remained unchanged.

“It was the same message at the beginning of this game, it was the same message at the beginning of our first game: 32 minutes,” Earley said. “We need 32 minutes of effort. … Our goal, every day, is to play hard, play fast, play together for 32 minutes.”

Scott hit three consecutive shots from long range, giving the Knights a 36-34 lead with 4:21 left in the game.

The scoring run forced a Hannibal timeout, and also forced a change in defensive philosophy. After the break, the Warriors returned to the court with a box-and-one defense, a contrast from the 3-2 zone that the team utilized for much of the night.

Earley mentioned the idea to alter the defensive strategy came from his players.

“Our players said, ‘Hey, what do you think about stepping up to the challenge and going box-and-one?’” Earley said. “I’m a big proponent of listening to my players. … You want to be able to empower your players to make decisions and be able to communicate with you.”

The Knights had a response to the defensive switch, and the Warriors were unable to gain much ground for the remainder of the game. 

Scott’s go-ahead three gave Henninger the momentum, and a three-pointer from eighth-grader Alayna Wood eventually pushed the lead to seven, 41-34, with 2:08 remaining. 

Hannibal was unable to rally, with a pair of free throws from Odom and a jumper from Samantha Emmons rounding out the scoring in a 43-36 win for Henninger.

Shortslef led the Warriors, with 16 points and 14 rebounds in the loss. Samantha Emmons recorded 13 points, five rebounds, and three assists for Hannibal. Sophia Salladin had two points and four rebounds, while Kiley Emmons chipped in two points and three rebounds. 

“I thought Kiley was great,” Earley said. “She doesn’t always show up on the offensive stats in the box score, but Kiley was out there communicating, working really hard on defense.”

After the game, Earley said he feels these types of matchups can help his team improve.

Hannibal (1-1) returns to action Monday at Cazenovia. 

“You can schedule those games early in the year, it’s kind of a benchmark and a barometer,” Earley said. “I think you can only get better from games like that, situations like that.”