By Randy Whalen
For the Bugle
As the season starts to settle in and the conference games approach, a couple of good local girls basketball teams faced off in a good measuring stick game last weekend.
That was the host Indians and Lockport in a matinee nonconference special on Saturday, Dec. 2 in Minooka. There the “tag team” of post players Sophie Darden (17 points, 9 rebounds) and Savannah Johnson (12 points, 8 rebounds) proved to be too much as the Indians held off Lockport 45-39.
Junior point guard Cierra Bachmann added 9 points and 10 rebounds for Minooka (3-3) which ended a 3-game losing streak. Senior guard Taylor Hopkins had 17 points for the Porters (4-1), who lost for the first time all season.
“We’re the ‘tag team’” Darden said of her and Johnson. We’ve been playing well together. We also play for the same travel team – the Illinois Evolution, so that helps.”
So does the fact that they’re both tall and aggressive. Darden is a 5-foot-8 sophomore while Johnson joins in as a 6-foot tall junior.
Darden deposited seven points in the fourth quarter as the Indians survived a ferrous Lockport rally. She hit four straight free throws, including both in the bonus and two for a technical foul, with 5:24 to play in the game to give Minooka a 37-28 lead. That advantage would eventually grow to 10 before the Porters went on a 9-2 burst and closed within 40-37 when junior guard Payton Grcevic banked in a 3-pointer with 2:19 to play in the fourth quarter.
But that was as close as it would get as the Indians held on despite only connecting on half (5-of-10) of their free throws in the final 1:52 of the game.
“Sophie took over,” Minooka coach Ray Liberatore said of the fourth quarter. “But that started with our guard play. Cierra Bachmann along with [sophomore] Allison Bugaiski (4 points) and [senior] Jenna Roberts (2 points) did a great job of holding onto the ball and finishing the game.”
The Indians can have all the height in the world, but know that guard play is a key to their success this season.
“We had a lot of good ball movement, we picked up our rebounding and played better as a team,” Darden said of the second half. “We just have to stick with it. We have to play with confidence and not get down on ourselves.”
Johnson had a pair of layups as Minooka came out with confidence and raced to a 6-0 lead in the opening 1:09 of the game. The Indian led 10-6 before Lockport scored the final points of the first quarter to make it 10-8. That also started a 10-0 run as the Porters opened up leads of 16-10 and 18-12. But Minooka, which went a span of 6:17 without scoring in the first half, closed the second quarter on a 7-0 run for a 19-18 halftime lead. Johnson had 10 of her points in the first half.
The Porter scoring drought reached 7:58 and Minooka’s run extended to 15-0 with the first eight points of the second half for a 27-18 lead. Sophomore forward Treasure Thompson (7 points, 8 rebounds) finally broke the streak by converting an old-fashioned 3-point play with 2:29 to play in the third quarter. The Indians led 29-23 after three.
“We had open looks, but then we rushed and panicked,” Lockport coach Dan Kelly said. “Sometimes we want it so bad that we get in our own way and then we dig ourselves a hole that’s hard to come back from.”
Kelly certainly has seen good things from his team so far, however. Hopkins and points guard Destiny Davis (6 points against Minooka) are both 4- year varsity players and good leaders. They helped the Porters to knock off a then undefeated Richards team 50-46 on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and helped rally the team on Nov. 27 for a 44-34 victory at Joliet West.
“I like the fact that we’ve been a resilient group,” Kelly said. “We’ve rallied in the fourth quarter, but we just have to let it come together for an entire game.”
In the meantime the Indians, who were 24-4 last year but graduated All-Conference guards Hailey Arlis and Brooklyn Bachmann, hope this is a springboard to another strong season,
“We haven’t been playing as well as we hoped to,” Liberatore said. “We haven’t lost three in a row too often over the years. But Lockport is a quality team and this was a good win for us.”