By Rob Kiser
PITSBURG — You can see the youthful exuberance of the Miami East girls basketball team every time they make a play.
But don’t mistake that youth for the inability to come up big in pressure situations.
And the growth East coach Bruce Vanover has seen in his quad throughout the season, came to fruition when the Lady Vikings dominated for three quarters — then finished off top seed Anna 53-46 in a Franklin Monroe D-III sectional final at the Hangar.
Miami East, 18-7, will play Bethel-Tate at 3 p.m. Saturday in a Springfield D-III district final.
“I told the girls there is no more living in the moment,” Vanover said. “That they always need to be looking for that next moment. We strive to be like the Anna’s and Versailles’ and get to the state tournament.”
And just when it looked like the moment could be getting too big for East — they showed they were up to the challenge.
After trailing 44-28 after three quarters, the 21-4 Rockets came roaring back.
Anna’s Avery Bensman hit two clutch threes and their full-court pressure seemed to be wearing on the Lady Vikings.
“The first time when Anna beats us, we overextended on Bensman and she killed us,” Vanover said. “She ended up scoring 22 or 23 points. Today, I thought we did a better job.”
Her second three completed an 18-3 run and brought the Rockets to within 47-46 with almost four minutes remaining.
“I told the girls, they (Anna) weren’t going anywhere,” Vanover said. “That is wasn’t going to be a blowout. We knew they were going to make a run. Give them credit, they got us doing things we didn’t want to do.”
Two breakout layups by Morgan Haney in transition — off assists by Haley Howard and Bailey Miller respectively — with a Kyndall Hellyer basket sandwiched in-between opened the lead back up to 53-46.
“Those are the kind of plays we have made all year,” Vanover said. “We got back to doing what we have done all year.”
At the other end, Hellyer capped a strong defensive effort by the Vikings all game — blocking a shot and grabbing a rebound with just over a minute to go — as East held Anna scoreless over the last three minutes plus.
“That was a huge block by Kyndall (Hellyer),” Vanover said. “She had one earlier. I don’t look at stats that much, but I always tell Kyndall, she is my seven, seven , seven girl (points, assists, rebounds).”
With Haney scoring 16 points — and Hellyer, Kinnison and Howard all adding eight — East had dominated play through the first three quarters, forcing Anna into numerous bad shots. The Vikings led 30-17 at half and 44-28 after three quarters, before holding off the Rockets late.
“That was the plan (force Anna to take shots they didn’t want to take),” Vanover said. “I really have a great situation. Coach Thompson handles the post players and coach Gump runs the offense and helps keep me under control. I get a little excited sometimes.”
Hellyer and Howard both had nine rebounds and Kinnison added six.
Macey Huelskamp had 15 points and seven rebounds for Anna, while Bensman and Nicole Barhorst had 11 points each.
East was 21 of 42 from the floor for 50 percent and 10 of 15 from the line for 67 percent.
Anna was 18 of 58 from the floor for 31 percent and six of eight from the line for 75 percent.
East dominated the boards 33-19, but had 21 turnovers to Anna’s seven.
“I have been coaching girls for nine or 10 years now and I have never beat Anna,” Vanover said. “Now, we are going to the district tournament. You couldn’t take the smile off my face right now.”
Understandable after seeing his young squad perform in the biggest of moments.
Miami East (53)
Morgan Haney 8-0-16, Megan Thompson 1-2-5, Kyndall Hellyer 3-2-8, Megan Kinnison 4-0-8, Haley Howard 3-2-8, Bailey Miller 1-4-6, Amber Kinnison 1-0-2. Totals: 21-10-53.
Sarah Bettinger 2-0-4, Avery Bensman 3-3-11, Nicole Barhorst 5-0-11, Macey Huelskamp 6-2-15, Abby Gaydosh 1-1-3, Claire Spicer 0-0-0, Mindy Schmitmeyer 0-0-0, Holly Boyd 1-0-2. Totals: 18-6-46.
3-point field goals — Miami East: Thompson. Anna: Bensman (2), Barhorst, Huelskamp.
Score By Quarters
Miami East 15 30 44 53
Anna 11 17 28 46
Records: Miami East 18-7, Anna 21-4.
Rob Kiser is Sports Editor for the Daily Call. He can be reached at (937) 451-3334.