By Ben Robinson
COVINGTON — Outside of the players and the coaches, nobody really knows just how close the Lady Buccs basketball team is.
But if the reaction of Hailey Houshel during warmups is any indication, this basketball team is very close.
Houshel, who is a sophomore junior varsity player, was in tears because it was the final home game for seniors Tori Lyle and Jordan Crowell – who were recognized with their parents prior to top-off.
“I can’t help it,” said Houshel of crying. “I can’t believe this is their last game on this floor. It means soon Tori and Jordan will be gone and I don’t want it to end.”
The closeness of the team is something Covington coach Jim Meyer has difficulty communicating as well. But after collecting his thoughts for a moment, Meyer tried the best he could.
“You know, that’s what makes it so much fun to coach these kids,” Meyer said with a quiver in his voice. “The love these kids have for each other and how they fight for each other – it’s just special to be a part of it.”
And the Lady Buccs made it a special evening for the two seniors as each and every player played unselfish, team basketball en route to a convincing 68-34 win over Tri-County North on Thursday.
Plus, both seniors finished their final game on the home floor with double figures in scoring as Crowell had 14 and Lyle scored 10.
“It was just a really special night for those two,” said Meyer of Crowell and Lyle. “There was a lot of raw emotion with the reality that this was their last game in this gym. I was so happy for both of them that they were able to get in double digits in their final game in front of the home crowd.”
Two possessions in the fourth quarter stood out as to the unselfishness of the girls and how much they all wanted to see Crowell and Lyle finish in double figures in scoring.
At the time, Crowell already had her 14 points, but Lyle was sitting at eight points with around 6:00 left in the game. Sammi Whiteman had a free path to the basket for a layup, but passed the ball to Lyle. Instead of shooting, Lyle passed the ball to Mackenzie Long, who scored an easy basket.
On the very next possession, it was Jordan Crowell who had a clear path to the basket on the baseline. Instead of taking the shot, she passed to Whiteman in the middle of the lane – who then passed to Lyle for an easy bucket for her tenth point.
“That’s the way these girls are,” Meyer said of the unselfishness. “They are all great teammates. It’s all about winning to them. They don’t care who gets the points – they want to win.”
The game was tight early as Tri-County North’s Aubrey Stupp scored eight of her 12 points in the first quarter to keep the Panthers within striking distance 18-13 with about 2:00 left in the frame. But a bucket by Lyle and a runner by Whiteman pushed the Lady Bucc lead to 22-13 after one.
Tri-County North’s Megan Poling hit a big trey and followed with a runner to close the gap to 22-18 in the first minute of the second, but that would be the final points of the first half for the Panthers.
Covington closed out the half on a 10-0 run as Whiteman hit on a pair of buckets and Kenzie Long, Jordan Crowell and Tori Lyle each connected on buckets.
The Lady Buccs put the game away in the third with a 20-11 scoring advantage in the frame. Whiteman hit on a trey and two buckets and Jordan Crowell scored five points with a trey and a runner. Lyle hit on a basket and two free throws, while Long and Lauren Christian added baskets of their own.
This set up a fourth quarter where the entire Covington roster contributed.
Whiteman hit one three free throws and a jumper, while Long, Lyle, Crowell and Christian connected on baskets before Meyer emptied his bench with 3:50 left in the game.
“It was nice to be able to pull Jordan and Tori so the fans could show their appreciation for their efforts over the last four years,” Meyer said. “It was also nice to be able to get everyone into the game.”
And once the seniors and starters left the floor, the younger girls continued making plays.
Morgan Kimmel scored on a basket and a free throw and Morgan Lowe connected on a jumper to close out the 68-34 win.
Sammi Whiteman led Covington with a game-high 27 points to go along with the 14 points scored by Crowell and 10 scored by Lyle.
And with the win, the Lady Buccs close out the regular season with a 16-6 overall record and a 9-3 record in the CCC as they prepare for the sectional tournament on February 17th at 11:00am against National Trail at Brookville High School.
But at the end of the day, it was all about the two seniors – Jordan Crowell and Tori Lyle.
“I can’t describe how much these senior mean to this team and this program,” Meyer said. “Whether it’s a freshman, sophomore or junior, they make every effort to make every girl feel like they are a big part of this team. They do so many little things that go unnoticed, things that lead to our success. To put it the best way I can, Jordan and Tori are just two great kids.”