BRAZIL -- The North Clay seventh-grade girls' quest for a perfect season ended successfully Thursday night, as they earned a hard fought 27-18 win over Greencastle.
While their record was perfect, the Knights were anything but Thursday. It appeared they would coast to an easy win, as their dominant defense and fast paced offense helped them jump out to a 10-2 lead at the end of the first quarter.
But a resilient Tiger Cub squad didn't go away without a fight. They scored the final five points of the half to get within three.
A major reason Greencastle was able to stay with North Clay was a very aggressive 2-3 zone defense the Knights hadn't seen much of through their season.
Tiger Cub coach Matt Welker said he had tried several different defensive looks throughout the season, and believed the zone would be able to give the Knights headaches.
Afterwards, Knight coach Kevin Kumpf gave Greencastle credit for taking his club out of their game.
"They played a really good game," Kumpf said. "It looked like we weren't playing as well as we could have been, but I think a lot of that had to do with how well they played."
Greencastle pulled within two early in the fourth quarter after a Jessica Lenihan jumper. Greencastle would have multiple possessions in which they had an opportunity to tie the game, but they proved to be unsuccessful.
Down the stretch, the Knights needed a big play, and they got it from Mikayla Rowan.
After pulling down a tough offensive rebound, Rowan was fouled and made 1-of-2 free throws to stretch the lead to three. On North Clay's next possession, Rowan pulled down another offensive rebound off a missed free throw, and her put back seemed to effectively end a long-standing Tiger Cub rally.
Two possessions later, an Abbey Timberman steal and lay-up sealed the game, as well as North Clay's quest for perfection. Rowan ended the night with 10 points and 16 rebounds, while Timberman added eight points and eight boards.
North Clay also found great success in holding the ball and running off crucial seconds in the fourth quarter, with one possession lasting longer than one minute. The lengthy possessions proved critical in stopping Greencastle's momentum.
"As long as you've got the ball and the lead, nothing can go wrong," Kumpf said.
The loss dropped Greencastle to 8-5. While he stressed he would have taken great pleasure in ending North Clay's quest for perfection, Welker said he thought his players could hold their heads high after battling so competitively with a top-flight opponent.
"We knew going in how good a team this was," Welker said. "I thought we gave them a great battle, which is probably as good a game as they've seen all year. I'm very proud of the entire squad for really battling."
Lenihan led the Tiger Cubs with eight points and seven rebounds, while Sydney Smiley added five and six.
Kumpf was understandably proud of his girls, who finished their seventh-grade year at a remarkable 22-0. The coach made a conscious effort not to single out any particular performer, praising everyone on his roster and saying that while they still have some fundamental improvements to make, they should have a very bright future ahead of them.
"The girls still do have a ways to go, but they're only seventh-graders; they've got time," Kumpf said. "But they are just a super bunch of girls, every single one of them. I know the high school is looking forward to having them."
The Knights B-team also ended its season on a high note, with a dominant 24-10 win over the Tiger Cubs. Ramey Miller ended her season very fashionably by sinking 3-pointers on North Clay's final two possessions. Miller had six points, while Sydney Buell added five while grabbing seven rebounds.
For Greencastle, Tera Amis had eight points and four rebounds in a losing effort.
At North Clay
GMS 2 9 5 2 -- 18
North Clay 10 4 6 7 -- 27
GMS -- Lenihan 8, Smiley 5, Stuckwisch 3, Taylor 2.
GMS 2 2 2 4 -- 10
North Clay 6 4 8 6 -- 24
GMS -- Amis 8, Ferrand 2.