MEXICO — In basketball, some wins are prettier than others. But all wins are just that: wins.
The Mexico girls’ basketball team survived a fourth-quarter push from Jordan-Elbridge on Tuesday night, finishing a 40-38 win in the team’s first game in 19 days.
Prior to Tuesday’s contest, the Tigers hadn’t taken the court since Dec. 22. Mexico also had practices on Friday and Monday cancelled due to snow days at the school. Head coach Dominick Anthony said, “you could tell” the team was a bit rusty.
“We tried to get a little shoot-around before the game,” Anthony said. “We just emphasized the things we normally emphasize: rebounding, taking care of the ball, and hopefully making some free throws.”
However, if the Tigers were rusty, it didn’t show in the early going. The quick-strike Mexico offense broke the game open in the first with three-pointers on three consecutive possessions. Two perimeter shots from Ella Blunt, and one from Kendall Cuyler, helped the Tigers to a 16-7 lead after the first.
Anthony said the outside shooting is “huge” for his team.
“Any time you have shooting on the outside, it makes the game a little bit easier,” said Anthony.
Led by 5 points from junior Anyssia Ingersoll, Mexico kept pace offensively in the second quarter. The Tigers played suffocating interior defense, holding Jordan-Elbridge to just 12 points in the first half. A three from Ella McCoy helped send the Tigers into halftime with a 24-12 lead.
In the third quarter, the Eagles managed to find some life offensively. Sophomore guard Ava Hildebrandt found a groove from outside the arc, hitting a pair of threes in the quarter. Abigail Ahern added another three for Jordan-Elbridge, but Mexico used a balanced offensive attack to keep the lead at 12 entering the fourth.
Just 48 seconds into the fourth, Ingersoll scored to extend the Tigers’ lead to 35-21. It was the largest lead of the night, and it wouldn’t last for long. Hildebrandt continued to find openings on the floor, scoring 8 points to single-handedly cut the lead to single digits in the final 4 minutes.
“(Hildebrandt is) a really good player,” Anthony said. “She did a really good job of finding spots in our zone. There were a couple times where we just didn’t locate her and didn’t come out when we needed to come out.”
Jordan-Elbridge continued to chip away, and a bucket from Ahern cut the lead to six with 2:48 remaining. Both teams had chances to score over the next two minutes, but neither was able to break the seal. Anthony said the Tigers looked to be forcing things in the final minutes.
“They weren’t causing us to make turnovers. We were either not moving our feet coming to the ball or just being too fast,” Anthony said. “We needed to slow it down. We need that leadership.”
Eagles’ senior Gabriella Smart missed a pair of free throws with 53 seconds left, but Jordan-Elbridge quickly regained possession, and a three from Heather Sorts cut the Mexico lead to 37-34 with just 27 seconds left.
Anthony said the Tigers’ shot selection hurt them in the fourth quarter.
“We were taking good shots at the beginning, and that’s what helped us,” Anthony said. “Toward the latter half of the game, we were just, one or two passes and a shot. We were giving them too many possessions.”
After the three from Sorts, disaster struck for Mexico when Ahern jumped and stole the Mexico inbounds pass at the baseline. The sophomore guard couldn’t get a layup attempt to fall, however, and Jordan-Elbridge was forced to foul.
Ingersoll hit both shots, extending the lead to 39-34 with 15 seconds to go. On the other end, Ahern was immediately fouled, and hit one of two shots.
With 12 seconds left, Cuyler missed a pair of free throws with a chance to stretch the lead to six. Mexico snatched the offensive rebound, but Ingersoll also missed both free throws after drawing a foul. The foul was also Hildebrant’s fifth, forcing her to the bench for the remainder of the contest.
The free throw contest in the final seconds continued, as Smart was fouled and hit both shots for the Eagles with 7 seconds to go, cutting the lead to just two points.
Ingersoll was fouled on the inbounds pass, and hit one of two shots, extending Mexico’s lead to 40-37.
Coming out of a timeout, Jordan-Elbridge needed three points to tie the game. The Eagles got the ball in the hands of Ahern, and as she forced up a three, the referee’s whistle sounded a split second before the final buzzer.
Ahern was fouled on a three with no time remaining, and would have a chance to send the game to overtime.
The nervous energy dissipated quickly, after Ahern missed the first two attempts.
The final shot was good, but ultimately for naught, as Mexico held on for a 40-38 victory at home.
Anyssia Ingersoll led Mexico with 18 points in the win. Emma Lawler added 7 points and 8 rebounds, while Ella Blunt recorded 6 points for the Tigers.
Ava Hildebrandt led all scorers, with 20 points in the loss for Jordan-Elbridge. Abigail Ahern added 12 for the Eagles.
Anthony had compliments for the Jordan-Elbridge squad after the game.
“Jordan-Elbridge is a lot better than their record says they are,” Anthony said. “I’ve seen them play on film. I’ve seen them play in person. And they’re young.”
Despite this, the Tigers’ head coach still noticed plenty of areas to be improved upon.
“We still didn’t do a good job on the boards,” Anthony said. “There were too many times where we were caught looking and not getting in.”
With the win, Mexico improves to 5-1 on the season. Anthony said it was “big” to end the team’s extended break with a win.
“We’ve got some really tough games ahead,” Anthony said. “To get out of here after a few weeks, and pick up a win to move to 5-1, is big.”