"It was never out of hand; it was a lot closer than 17 points," Cloverdale head coach James Wade said. "The girls just played hard, our defense was working well tonight and we were being patient on offense. We were keeping our composure; I mean they are a 17-1 basketball team. They are a great team and we did a really good job."
It was apparent early that the Cloverdale players were ready for the Sparkplug challenge. After Kara Tierney stole the ball and had a clean breakaway at 3:57 in the first quarter, CHS senior Kayla Shepard raced down the floor and sent Tierney's shot careening onto the stage with a huge block.
The Clovers had arrived.
Cloverdale went down early, falling behind by 10 in the first quarter. A three from Kristin McCammon was followed by a bucket by Elizabeth Cheatham and after two free throws by McCammon, the Clovers found themselves down by four after one quarter, 18-14.
A noticeable difference in the Cloverdale squad Friday was a sense of unity. Between free throws, there were smiles, shared words and the result was a much looser ballclub. That relaxed play translated into some big buckets for Cloverdale and some concern for Speedway.
With 3:39 in the second, Speedway began a run that gave them a nine-point lead entering the half 34-25. Cheatham and McCammon scored in double-digits in the first half, scoring 11 and 10 points respectively.
Wade spoke after the contest about the chemistry of the team and how it seems his squad is gelling at the most important time of the season.
"We've talked about that (unity) a lot," he confirmed. "We're always getting so close and we're going to get there. The girls believe in themselves, we believe in them and they're practicing so hard and that's why we're improving the way we are. If we keep going in the right direction, we're going to be all right."
The Clovers began the second half with a swarming defense and cut the Speedway lead to five a the 2:16 mark when McCammon connected on another long distance offering, making it 42-37. Unfortunately, the Clovers were outscored 9-2 to close the third, a margin that proved to be too much to overcome.
Cloverdale's defense was strong in the fourth, limiting the Sparkplugs to just eight points. However, the Clovers were able only able to muster three points of their own, all coming at the line, and fell by the final margin.
"There's not a victory in a loss by no means, but there are a lot of positives that we can take from this," Wade said. "All around we played a pretty good game, we just couldn't get over that hump. We kept it close all night."
Wade alluded to the fact that things are beginning to come together for the Clovers and that this was one of Cloverdale's strongest outings of the season.
The subject of his team's relaxed demeanor in the contest came up again after the game and Wade emphasized that the team is just trying to enjoy itself.
"We've just been talking about having fun and enjoying it," he said. "We're trying to enjoy the journey. It's not just one game here and one game there -- it's a journey. It's been fun and things are starting to work.
"We didn't get the job done, but we stayed with a good ballclub for most of the night," Wade said.
The Clovers will face South Putnam in the second game of the Speedway Sectional Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.
Speedway 18 16 17 8 -- 59
Cloverdale 14 11 14 3 -- 42
Speedway -- Emerson 16, Anglea 15, Tierney 10, Walton 9, Jones 7. Totals: 24-56 FG 9-20 FT 59 TP.
Cloverdale -- Cheatham 16, McCammon 16, Franklin 9, Shepherd 1. Totals: 13-33 FG 12-18 FT 42 TP.
Next game -- The Clovers will face South Putnam in the second game of the Speedway Sectional Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.