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Squires survive battle with Tigers

DRIVE: Manchester’s Kennedy Fierstos drives past an opponent during Wednesday’s game against Peru.

BY JACOB RUDE - sports@wabashplaindealer.com

PERU – Dropping its first TRC girls’ basketball game of the season to North Miami dragged Manchester into a four-way tie for first in the conference.

The Squires managed to avoid a second-straight loss to a Miami County team Wednesday night, using a 26-point third quarter to build a 10-point lead heading into the fourth and staving off a late Peru rally for a 51-46 win.

Manchester head coach Jake Everett said despite trailing at the break, the team stayed composed and made things happen at the right times.

“We handled being down at halftime,” Everett said. “We made some minor adjustments at the break like closing down in our defensive transition, securing rebounds and to keep moving the ball on offense constantly.

“Eventually, the things we wanted would open up. We were 5-of-15 in the first half in the lane and we were much better than that in the second half.”

The game got off to a slow start for both teams as Harmoni Stone and Kennedy Fierstos traded the opening baskets. Peru got into gear first as Courtlynn Crowe converted a pair of layups around a Cate Wolfe three to give the hosts a 9-2 lead midway through the period.

Maegan Sinkovics added a basket to give the hosts their largest lead of the night at 11-2. Eva Bazzoni bailed out Manchester in the final minute-and-a-half after Crowe picked up a second foul, draining two threes to trim the gap to two at 11-9. Stone opened the second quarter with a basket but six-straight from the Squires off of baskets from Fierstos, Emma West and Bazzoni gave the visitors their first lead of the game at 15-13.

Everett was happy with the way the girls rallied after a very slow start from the floor.

“Peru brought it early tonight to get an 11-2 lead,” Everett said. “We did well to weather the storm and put together a nice run of our own in the second quarter.”

Crowe answered with a pair of baskets to put Peru back in front before Fierstos tied the game again at 17-17. Wolfe hit her second three of the night to close the half, giving the Tigers a 20-17 lead at halftime.

As off as Manchester was in the first half from the field, the Squires were equally on point in the third quarter. Sinkovics started the half with a three to give Peru a 23-17 lead with Fierstos and Kennidy Lauer replying to trim the gap to two at 23-21.

Stone scored on a jumper before Bazzoni caught fire, knocking down two threes that gave the visitors the lead for good as well as a layup and a steal for a Fierstos basket, pushing Manchester into a 33-25 lead.

Crowe finally scored twice around a Jirni Cripe basket to halt the 12-0 run that had taken just over two minutes. Fierstos hit a three that was traded off by a three-point play from Stone, followed by a basket from Carlee Marburger that cut the lead down to 38-33.

Bazzoni had one more dagger in hand before the period ended, notching another three while Kiera Hatfield converted from close range to give the Squires a 43-33 lead heading into the final period of play.

Once Bazzoni got going, the rest of the team followed suit according to Everett.

“Eva came out ready to play in that third quarter,” Everett noted. “She hit almost every shot she took. When players saw the ball go in, they were a little relieved and relaxed a little bit. Our run started on defense by plugging up their passing lanes, securing the rebound on missed shots and pushing the ball up the floor.”

As soon as the period ended, Manchester reverted back to their first-half offense, giving Peru a chance to cut the lead in half following a Crowe jumper and Sinkovics three. Bazzoni hit a free throw but two more Crowe baskets saw the Tigers cut the deficit to two at 44-42.

After Bazzoni hit two more free throws, Stone scored on a putback, only for Fierstos to pop up with a crucial three that stretched the lead back out to five at 49-44 with two minutes to play.

“Kennedy came-and-went part of the game but when we needed her most, she more than delivered,” Everett said about the senior. “It was a huge shot from a really talented player.”

Hatfield missed the front end of two one-and-one opportunities but Crowe also drew iron at the line and time soon ran out on the hosts’ chance to make up the deficit.

Manchester’s escape moves the team to 5-1 in TRC play, the same record as Northfield, while North Miami and Tippecanoe Valley sit at 4-1 in conference play.

Everett said the team played into a zone defense well Wednesday night and would need to continue to do so Saturday when the team travels to Wabash.

“Our ability to run offense against a zone and a zone press will be important,” Everett said. “We need to be able to handle the ball into pressure, get the ball into scoring positions and then execute from there.

“Sometimes we got the ball to the right positions but then didn’t execute the read. We’ll continue to improve as we see more zone defenses and get better every day.”