The McGuffey High School girls basketball team has been somewhat of an offensive juggernaut this season, averaging close to 72 points per game and scoring at least 61 points in 10 of 11 games entering Thursday’s Section 5-AA game against Wash High.
But against the Prexies, the Highlanders showed that they could win with their defense.
McGuffey had a battle on their hands and trailed at halftime for the first time all season, but the Highlanders came out with an intense defensive effort in the second half, outscoring Wash High 36-22 over the final two quarters en route to a 61-48 victory.
While the Highlanders’ offense gets a lot of credit, they had allowed only 36.5 points per game, including only nine total points Monday against Beth-Center.
“That’s what we are all about,” said McGuffey head coach Amanda Burchett. “We win with defense, and I was really happy with the effort we gave in the second half.”
While the final score shows the Highlanders (5-0, 11-1) won by double-digits, they struggled early with the Prexies, who came out trapping the McGuffey guards, forcing many turnovers that they turned into baskets.
“We had a game plan coming in,” said Wash High head coach Mike Maltony. “We wanted to pressure their guards and move the ball quickly on offense. I thought we executed that very well in the first half. We wore down a little bit in the second half, but I thought we grew up tonight as a team. I was very proud of the effort.”
The game started out looking like it would be a battle of each team’s top scorers in McGuffey’s Sammie Weiss and Wash High’s Mya Gordon.
Both Weiss and Gordon had 11 points at the half, but each went silent in the second half. Weiss had only three second-half points, while Gordon scored only two. But that was a credit to each team’s defense, which made it a point to double team the opponent’s top scorer.
“They had no answer for Mya early,” said Maltony. “We were able to get her the ball in the high-post and she was able to get to the rim pretty easy. In the second half they started throwing more defenders at her and we had to find some offense in other places.”
The Prexies (3-2, 6-5) did get a spark from Tajah Gordon, who finished the game with 12, and received a nice lift from Mikala Maltony, who added 10 off the bench. But the Highlanders found much more offense in the second half.
With Weiss not getting many open looks at the basket, and Cassie Weiss held scoreless, the Highlanders turned to Rachel Czulewicz, who had a big second half.
Czulewicz hit a three-pointer early in the third quarter to give McGuffey a 28-26 lead. Czulewicz scored 14 of her game-high 20 points in the second half. She scored 10 straight in the third quarter to push the McGuffey lead to seven points.
Czulewicz started the fourth quarter with back-to-back layups that extended the Highlanders’ lead to 46-35 and gave McGuffey some breathing room.
“Rachel was outstanding tonight,” said Burchett. “But that’s the way we are. We have good depth, so if someone isn’t having a great night, we have plenty of people that can step up. Tonight, Rachel and Sam (Chadwick) were big for us.”
Free-throw shooting turned out to be a big part of the game, and that’s where Chadwick came up big. Neither team shot very well from the line as the Highlanders made only 23 of 34 attempts, and the Prexies knocked down only 6-of-17.
But Chadwick was the exception, making 11 of 12 attempts, including 10-for-10 late in the game.
“We don’t shoot very well from the line at times, but Sam made some big free-throws for us tonight,” said Burchett. “We were able to keep the lead comfortable in the fourth quarter because she didn’t miss at all.”
In addition to Czulewicz’s 20 points, Chadwick (17) and Weiss (14) both finished in double figures for the Highlanders.
McGuffey has won eight consecutive games and will be back in action Monday night when it hosts South Side Beaver.
The loss put an end to the Prexies three-game win streak.