Clinton walked into Southern Wayne’s gym boasting a 6-1 record.
The Saints mustered a small shrug. They’ve seen good teams all season and know how to handle them.
Wednesday night wasn’t any different.
With great defense and a composed half-court offense, Southern Wayne grabbed control of the game late in the second quarter in its thrilling 54-48 victory over Clinton.
“I’m very proud of the girls,” said Southern Wayne assistant coach Takisha Vann. “Their confidence is getting better and better. The biggest thing is we’ve learned how to finish games.”
The first quarter was a back-and-forth affair. The Dark Horses went up 11-4 before Southern Wayne stormed back. Erykah Baldwin hit a buzzer beater at the end of the first quarter to make the score 13-10.
Clinton stretched its lead to 15 points midway through the second quarter, but Southern Wayne flipped the script and had a 28-25 advantage by the end of the second quarter.
“We just kept fighting,” Vann said. “We’ve been here before, and we knew we could do it again. I think now that they know from experience that they can come back and not hang their head like we would have done in the past.”
The Saints had another big run early in third quarter, when they pushed the lead to 37-28. However, Clinton used a pressure-filled defense to agitate the Saints, causing turnovers and missed shots.
“They were making us make careless mistakes, we were rushing and taking poor shots,” Vann said.
Clinton was only down 39-35 at the end of the third quarter but head coach Ricky Lofton and Vann knew the answer to breaking the aggressive press.
Slow down the pace and make sure you take your time.
After the press was defeated, Southern Wayne pulled the ball out and patiently waited for good shots in the paint.
In the tension-filled fourth quarter, Samiya Bess knocked in a shot to put Southern Wayne up 51-45. With one minute left in the game, Clinton scored to decrease the margin to 51-48, but Bess hit two free throws to ice the game for the Saints.
Bess led Southern Wayne with 18 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks. Baldwin scored 14 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, while Alexus Elliot added eight points and 11 rebounds.
After starting the season 0-2, Southern Wayne has now won four games in a row. Vann said the team is used to facing adversity, and they’re going to keep handling it like they’ve done all season.
“That experience of being there and knowing we can come back and trusting each other is very big for us,” Vann said. “We’re jelling right now.”