What the first game of the annual Highland Scott Credit Union/Optimists Shootout lacked in fireworks, it made up for end-of-the-game drama.
Megan Kronk knocked down three free throws in the final minutes and Emmy Nyquist picked off a pass in the final seconds as Highland slipped past a gritty East St. Louis squad 47-42 on Saturday morning at Highland High School.
The early morning start may have sapped some of sharpness from both teams, but Kronk, a senior guard, seemed unfazed with her 16 points. Kronk said she felt some pressure to step up her offense in the absence of Ellie Brown, who leads the Bulldogs at 13.6 points per game.
“This game we knew that a bunch of us would have to step up with Ellie not being there, but I think overall we all stepped up in different ways and we overcame that,” Kronk said.
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It was game that gave Highland coach Clint Hamilton a few wrinkles in his forehead, but he was satisfied with his club’s performance. Beating the Flyerettes for the second time in two weeks was not easy.
“That was a great win for our kids,” Hamilton said. “We knew after we beat them last week they were gonna come out a little bit hungry and they were very physical and very competitive but I’m proud of our kids and the way they responded.”
Both teams struggled with shooting in the first half as the defenses were physical and shots were contested on both ends of the floor. Highland led by just three after the first quarter and held just a 22-19 lead at the half.
“We tried to get back the hard defense, understanding the drive (lanes) and where you are supposed to be at,” East St, Louis coach Antonio Mattox said. “That’s our main we’ve been working on for the last month.”
Highland (l15-4) lead most of the third quarter but a Chamya Darrough bucket puled East St. Louis (6-11) even at 29-29 with 58 seconds left in the third quarter.
The Lady Bulldogs answered with a quick 5-0 spurt as Taylor Kesner drilled a jumper and Kronk fired in a 3-pointer at the buzzer to put her team ahead, 34-29, heading into the fourth stanza.
Buckets from Darrough and Lamad’j Milton tied it again at 36-36 with 5:57 left. But at about the three-minute mark Highland switched its offense into a spread, motion delay set that forced the Flyerettes out of their zone and led to backdoor cuts and free-throws.
“Whenever we saw there was about three and a half minutes on the clock, me, Emmy, and Mae kind of got together — and I think we were down two or four — and we kind of wanted to make more shots and not force any shots. That’s what we did,” Kronk said.
Holding a two-point lead, the Lady Bulldogs got to the foul line twice in the last 13 seconds and knocked down three of four three-throws and Nyquist snuffed out the Flyerettes last shot attempt with a steal as time ran out to secure the win.
“Highland is a quality ball club,” Mattox said. “They run good sets and they are very disciplined and we have to be more disciplined and compensate for what they are doing.” It was tough at the end.”
Kronk was awarded the game Most Valuable Player Award for her performance.