By Ben Robinson
BROOKVILLE — The Covington Lady Buccs entered the sectional tournament playing their best basketball of the season – winners of four straight and six of the last seven games.
But Covington has played just two games in the 16 days prior to Saturday’s sectional opener against National Trail at Brookville, and Lady Bucc coach Jim Meyer was concerned about his team being able to maintain the momentum before the Buccs 57-40 victory.
Covington, 16-6, advances to play Twin Valley South at 6 p.m. Tuesday.
“We did the best we could to put the kids into a game-type situation this past week, but the tournament atmosphere is much different,” Meyer said. “I was worried about us coming out a little sluggish.”
Which Covington did on Saturday as the Lady Buccs found themselves tied at 9-9 with a National Trail team it defeated 71-44 on Feb. 1.
“I attribute that to the tournament atmosphere,” Meyer said of the slow start. “When we are seeded as high as we are and playing a team we should beat, there’s a tendency to come out a little flat and that’s what happened. You try to treat a tournament game like any other, but it’s really not.”
Covington had its opportunities to break the game open early, but just couldn’t hit shots – something Meyer credits to National Trail’s defensive effort for the Lady Bucks’ shooting woes early.
“Really, it didn’t surprise me because I think National Trail is a lot better than their record,” said Meyer. “They get after it defensively.”
And National Trail wasn’t about to let Sammi Whiteman take over the game offensively as the Lady Blazers doubled up on her for much of the game.
But Whiteman was able to make the adjustments by taking what the Blazers gave her, which meant finding open teammates for easy buckets. This opened things up for Covington offensively in the second quarter as it opened up a 26-10 lead midway through the frame thanks to a 17-1 run.
“That’s what makes Sammi a different player than most – she is going to play within the system every night,” Meyer said. “Teams focus on stopping her and she takes what is given and today it meant allowing others to step up and score.”
Whiteman did lead Covington in scoring with a game-high 14 points, but also had 11 rebounds and 11 assists for a triple-double.
And with her ability to share the basketball and run the offense, the Lady Buccs pushed their lead to 31-17 at the break.
But even though Covington was able to get the offense going in the second quarter, Meyer credited the defensive effort of his kids for keeping the game manageable until shots started to fall.
“National Trail does some things that can give you fits, but we worked all week on defending their outside screens,” Meyer explained. “It was little rough early, but once the kids adjusted we shut it down pretty well. Defensively we are playing pretty well.”
With the momentum on its side, Covington played more relaxed in the second half and cruised to a 57-40 win.
And in the process, the Lady Buccs received great performances from senior Tori Lyle and sophomores Morgan Lowe and Morgan Kimmel.
Lyle, who is steady every game, recorded a double-double with 13 points and 14 rebounds.
“Tori just played solid at both ends,” praised Meyer. “She defended Makena Laird really, really well. She rebounded well and if we missed a shot she as right there to put it back in.”
Kimmel and Lowe came up big as well.
“The two Morgans, it’s a tough situation for them not knowing how much they’ll play, but today we needed them a lot,” continued Meyer. “And Morgan Kimmel played very, very well in the post. She was physical and aggressive in there and battled at both ends of the floor. Morgan Lowe stepped in and started and she didn’t know until two hours before the game, but she started for us today and played a great game. I’m very happy about the effort both of those girls gave us today.”
In the end it wasn’t a perfect performance by any stretch of the imagination, but it was a performance Meyer hopes leads to bigger and better things down the line.
“It was a little shaky early, but we were able to get control of the game in the second quarter and I think it helped us relax a little bit – to not play so tight,” Meyer said. “Now that we’ve got the first one (tournament win) under our belt, hopefully we can relax and just play basketball the way we are capable of.”
Starting Tuesday against Twin Valley South.