Defense, reserves spur Falcons to first conference win

Falcon junior Hayley Newman gets fouled by Cougar senior Ashlie Jensen during South Whidbey’s 60-52 overtime victory. Newman scored 14 points, despite starting the second half as a reserve.  - Ben Watanabe / The Record
Falcon junior Hayley Newman gets fouled by Cougar senior Ashlie Jensen during South Whidbey’s 60-52 overtime victory. Newman scored 14 points, despite starting the second half as a reserve.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

LANGLEY — South Whidbey saved its best defense for the final four minutes in an overtime victory against Lakewood, 60-52, earlier this week.

The Falcons kept the Cougars scoreless through the entire stretch of bonus time. The Cascade Conference game on Tuesday was the Falcons’ first conference win in 11 months, and their second overall victory this season.

“Winning in the league is always good. It was a bit scary when we went to overtime,” said Falcon head coach Andy Davis. “We got a couple breaks early and then they got behind the eight ball.”

The Falcons won despite 32 points from Lakewood’s leading scorer, Ashley Orr. The Cougar senior guard made a three-pointer (her fourth of the night) with 12 seconds left in the fourth quarter to tie the game at 52-52.

Falcon junior Hayley Newman, who started the first half and came off the bench in the second, missed a mid-range jumper to send the game to overtime.

“After sitting, my arms were kind of cold,” Newman said.

Both teams opened the overtime period a bit on the frosty side.

Newman missed a jump shot and Orr missed two free throws.

Then South Whidbey’s substitutes made the difference. Senior reserve guard Marina Kovic slipped free along the baseline, was fouled on a layup attempt and made a free throw to give the Falcons the lead.

“I think it was good to get the momentum going toward winning, instead of just idling in the middle,” Kovic said. “The rest of the team did a good job of bringing me to that goal.”

“It was kind of an adaptation I had of the play because I couldn’t quite remember what the play was,” she said.

With one play, South Whidbey’s players felt the tension lift a little as the possibility of winning their first Cascade Conference game was only a couple of minutes away.

“There were a lot of good feelings that we were going to win,” Kovic said. “I felt more relaxed.”

On defense, the Falcons used a zone to cover Orr and smother Lakewood’s best post, senior Kayley Diggs.

Newman altered Diggs’ layup, rebounded the missed shot and was fouled by Diggs, which sent her to the bench for the rest of the game. Newman sank both free throws for a three-point lead.

“Hayley has the ultimate confidence in herself that she can score,” Davis said. “She’s doing the very best she can every day, like they all are. We have numerous girls that can play, so it’s not like we have to rely on one single person every night.”

Lakewood missed several scoring opportunities on its next possession before Falcon junior Ellie Greene grabbed the rebound.

Newman was fouled again on a drive, but missed both free throws. Greene rebounded on the second miss and had a layup through two defenders knocked out of bounds by the Cougars.

Davis called a timeout to set the play, which got the ball from Greene to Kovic as she cut toward the basket for an uncontested layup and a five-point lead.

“We continue to harp on the value of the basketball,” Davis said.

“The bottom line is we didn’t get pressed a whole lot last year, after the first quarter, because we weren’t very good. Now we face pressure for long stretches of time without any relief,” he said. “We finally figured out that if we get the ball to that second level of the defense, we’re going to beat them.”

Without their best inside player, Lakewood relied on perimeter shooting. South Whidbey took advantage, pressuring Lakewood’s shooters beyond the three-point line. Falcon senior Makenzie Peterson stole a pass in the paint and sent the ball to Newman (14 points) for a layup and a free throw, which she converted for the final points of the night, 60-52.

“It was cool that we had girls who came off the bench after sitting for a while make a play or two,” Davis said.

For the Falcons, the victory signaled a turning point. Last season, Lakewood swept South Whidbey 41-30 and 41-36.

Jesse Portillo photo | Lacy Williams attempts a free throw against Lakewood on Tuesday night. The Falcon senior helped contain the Cougars' best post player Kayley Diggs in South Whidbey's first conference win of the season.

“We learn from this win to go harder and we just need to do our plays more,” Greene said. “We just normally don’t run our plays, it just doesn’t happen.”

“I just hope we can keep this win going.”

In Tuesday night’s win, the Falcons started on a six-point run and led most of the first quarter.

The Cougars took the lead in the second quarter on a layup by Diggs at 14-13. Falcon senior Jessica Manca hit a three with 30 seconds left to lead 25-24. Lakewood responded quickly as Diggs made two free throws and Orr drilled another three to regain the lead at halftime 29-27.

Falcon senior Lacy Williams slipped past her defender for an easy layup to tie the game in the first play of the second half, 29-29. Falcon senior reserve Brittany Wood stole a pass that led to an open layup for Manca and the lead 31-29.

Manca fouled out with almost four minutes left in the fourth quarter. She finished as the Falcons’ leading scorer with 16 points and 12 rebounds. Her loss stunted South Whidbey’s scoring in the final minutes of the fourth quarter until the team prioritized its defense.

“We all have a connection with each other. It makes it a lot easier if somebody fouls out to get back at it,” Greene said.

“In the beginning, we were going at it hard,” Greene said. “I think overtime was our best time because we just went at it, we wanted to win and wanted the game to be over.”

South Whidbey hosted Granite Falls on Friday night.

The Tigers (3-1 overall) are the conference’s best girls basketball squad so far. Granite Falls defeated Interlake and Cedar Park Christian by double digits, lost to Bellingham by 12 points and beat Nooksack Valley, led by Peyton Spencer with 13 points and 10 rebounds. To date, Spencer has scored 80 points through four games, including a season-high 27 against Cedar Park.

Next week, the Falcons travel to Sultan to face the Turks on Tuesday, Dec. 13.

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