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Maconaquah falls in season opener

OPENING ACT: Maconaquah freshman Lily Maple (L) started off slow Saturday against Western but closed the girls’ basketball season opener with a game-high 21 points in the Braves’ 51-43 loss to the Panthers.

BY TRENT SCOTT - tscott@perutribune.com

RUSSIAVILLE – Some bad habits don’t go down without a fight.

For Maconaquah, fouls and turnovers were a constant plague throughout the previous girls’ basketball season and those same problems beset the Braves in their season opener against Western Saturday night.

The Panthers, who took 52 shots from the charity stripe against Eastern the night prior, added another 40 to the ledger, scoring enough from the line following a big second quarter to keep the visitors at bay in a 51-43 win.

Maconaquah head coach PJ Hatcher said the team had a decent game but gave away too many free points to the hosts.

“We played a great basketball game if you take the fouls out of it,” Hatcher said. “Those fouls were a huge problem that gave (Western) a huge opportunity that they capitalized on.

“If you look at what we’ve been able to do and from where we’ve come, we’re not fazed. We do need to change the fouls but it’s not going to change the journey that we’re on.”

The game was tightly called in the opening minutes which was a significant issue for the Braves, who put Western in the bonus 2:32 into the contest and eventually the double bonus with five seconds remaining in the opening period.

“It’s about adapting to the game,” Hatcher said about the high foul count. “We had the option to adapt or play the game the same way, though if we continued to play the game the same way, we were going to get the same result.”

Despite the amount of calls, the visitors went blow-for-blow with the Panthers, trimming a five-point gap down to one by the end of the period as the hosts went into the second quarter with a slender 13-12 lead.

Ashley Jess gave Maconaquah a brief 14-13 lead with the opening basket of the period but it was one of only two the visitors would score before the halftime horn.

Western utilized the inside play of Clara Braswell and Haley Scott to force six different trips to the foul line while Karson Lechner added enough outside presence to help the Panthers enter halftime with a 30-16 lead as all three players chipped in five points during the quarter.

Hatcher said the team was doing some things right on offense but was careless at times with the ball.

“We were patient at times on offense but we did throw several overhead passes where we needed something different,” Hatcher said. “We needed to be crisper and encourage them to bounce pass more.”

The hosts would get the opening basket of the second half to stretch the lead to 16 at 32-16.

From there, the game entered a see-saw state where the scoring gap fluctuated between 8-15 points as Maconaquah was unable to sustain a challenge to the Western lead while the Panthers couldn’t put away a pesky Braves squad.

Lily Maple provided most of the offensive punch for the visitors, scoring 15 points in the second half and led all scorers with 21 in the game. Braswell had 15 points in reply for the visitors while Scott added 12.

“I imagine it will be a reoccurring thing,” Hatcher said about Maple being the leading scorer. “That said, we had other girls step up for us tonight.

“We played smarter tonight. We got into a bad situation but we tried to dig ourselves out and there’s no way we will not improve in our next game.”

Hatcher pointed to players like Tara Wagoner and Josie Pyke who gave the team energy off the bench and made an impact when they were called upon.

“We watched some videos of Aaron Craft and Tara loves that, even saying she wants to be that type of player,” Hatcher pointed out. “It was great that she got playing time and others did as well.

“The girls know that everyone else can step up and play our type of basketball.”

Maconaquah will open up the home portion of the schedule Tuesday hosting Blackford, a school the Braves have not seen since the 2000-01 sectional, the last year the team won a postseason title.

Hatcher said the defense made strides during Saturday’s game and with more attention to detail said the girls had a good chance to get the first win of the year.

“Up until the last two minutes of the second quarter, Western didn’t have a post touch or drive,” Hatcher said. “Our defense played nearly 14 minutes without giving up a shot in the kill zone.

“We need to be more aware of personnel, make sure we know the score and know when we need to make things happen.”