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Squires drop first TRC game of season

PASS: Manchester’s Kiera Hatfield passes to a teammate during the Squires game against North Miami on Saturday.

BY JACOB RUDE - sports@wabashplaindealer.com

NORTH MANCHESTER — Each side knew the implications of Saturday’s girls’ basketball match-up between Manchester and North Miami. The Squires, unbeaten in Three Rivers Conference (TRC) play, controlled its own destiny while North Miami could play the role of spoiler while offering lifelines to multiple other schools.

A wild fourth quarter saw the Squires jump out to its biggest lead of the night at 36-30, North Miami responded with a massive 17-3 run to close the game, securing a 47-39 win.

“That was huge. That was huge,” North Miami head coach Lori Working said. “I saw the excitement at the end of the game like I was excited because I told the girls that was a huge game. I’m really trying to emphasize the fact you have to win the boards and you have to win at the free throw line. We were toe-to-toe the whole game and you get down to the end like that, free throws are going to win it for you.

“Those girls, I keep saying, they keep finding ways to win. These kids have pulled together and played together as a team.”

After the two teams were only separated by no less than three points for the entirety of the second and third quarters, Manchester’s six-point lead after three-pointers from Kiera Hatfield and Kennedy Fierstos felt much bigger than two possessions.

The Warriors’ response was immediate as layups from Bailey Keim and Maryann Freeman led to an immediate timeout from Manchester head coach Jacob Everett. The break in action did nothing to slow the run as Taylor Tinney and Keim each knocked down a pair of free throws around a Hannah Hall basket, capping off a 10-0 run and giving the Warriors a 40-36 lead.

Fierstos briefly stopped the run and pulled the hosts back within a possession with a jumper but North Miami made four more consecutive trips to the free throws line in the ensuing 58 seconds, converting six of the attempts while stringing together multiple stops defensively to seal a monumental win on the night.

“I didn’t get them prepared enough to handle that late-game situation,” Everett said. “I think I didn’t put them in the right scheme defensively to kind of put some more pressure on them. Getting ready to play a game on a break I think also kind of factored in. We were a little tired.”

In the closing 17-3 run, the Warriors relied on multiple stops defensively before knocking down free throws, an area Working had preached about for much of the season.

“I push the kids hard in practice,” she said, “because I say ‘I have to have you on the floor. You have got to be conditioned and come about the fourth quarter, you have to have legs to shoot free throws.’

“Believe is a huge word we use. I keep telling them ‘You have to believe in yourself. You have to play as a team. You have to go out there and work together.’ We threw some things out there, got a few steals, got back in the game,” Working added. “The tempo got going and once we got on that roll…it’s all about momentum shifts. It’s all about momentum. Somebody gets that and it gets to rolling and things start clicking for you.”

The night started slow for both sides as Manchester’s first basket didn’t come until the 3:35 mark of the first on a Fierstos three-pointer. The senior guard scored the first eight points for the hosts, tying the game with her second long-range effort of the night to open the second.

The two teams swapped leads in the second period before North Miami took an 18-17 lead into the break. The third period saw big three-pointers from Hall and Keim, the first to tie the game and the second to take the lead, as North Miami remained close. Hatfield would give the Squires a three-point edge heading into the fourth with one of her two long-range makes on the night.

Manchester would score six of the first nine points of the fourth period to take the six-point lead before collapsing down the stretch.

“The biggest thing I talked to them about was it wasn’t any one person on our team that made a mistake that cost us that game,” Everett said. “It wasn’t any one play, it wasn’t any one girl. As a coach, I’ll take this loss. This one’s on me not getting them ready, not getting them to the point they need to be to execute late-game. That’s just something to work on that North Miami did a good job of exposing our weakness there and that’s on me.”

North Miami was paced a trio of double-digit scorers. Freeman and Keim pitched in 12 points apiece while Hall had 11. Kate Cobler and Tinney each had six. The Warriors finished 17-of-22 at the line on the night, outscoring the hosts by 16 points at the charity stripe.

Everett was also complimentary of Working and her side as the Warriors, despite losing three key pieces to transfers over the off-season, have remained a key player atop the TRC.

“I do want to say, though, that they had an excellent gameplan coming in, switching defensies like they did,” Everett said. “I think that what Coach Working is doing, she’s pushing the girls really, really hard. Really hard. And they’re responding really well. And they fight every possession every time down the court. Eventually, if you wear a team down, you’ll see success and they had a lot of success tonight. Props to her.”

Fierstos tallied 13 points to lead all scorers. Hatfield had nine while Kennidy Lauer chipped in eight points and seven rebounds.

The loss drops Manchester to 4-1 in TRC play and even in the loss column with Northfield (5-1), North Miami (4-1) and Manchester (4-1). With a match-up against Tippecanoe Valley on the docket and the Norse and Warriors yet to meet, the conference title will still see twists and turns as the season closes, a message Everett shared with his team.

“One loss doesn’t necessarily bump you out of the TRC with it being 10 teams,” he said. “You’d like to be able to run the table but more often than not in the many years of the TRC, it’s usually a one- or two-loss team that’s going to be on the top.”

Manchester (9-7) travels to Peru on Wednesday to continue TRC play while North Miami (13-3) travels to Lewis Cass to face a potential sectional foe on Wednesday.