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Friday, May 6, 2016

Clovers ready to take the next step, win at sectional

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Cloverdale sophomore Taylor Clark attempts a shot against Greencastle in a game earlier this year. Clark's shot-blocking and defense has given the Clovers an advantage inside.
( Banner Graphic/GRANT WIEMAN) [Order this photo]
CLOVERDALE -- The Cloverdale girls' basketball team has come a long way the past few years. Now the senior-heavy roster will look to do something it hasn't in the past: reach the sectional final.

The bracket makers awarded the Clovers a bye, making the path one game shorter, but to reach the final and continue their quest, they'll have to beat the winner of the South Putnam/Speedway game.

"At the beginning of the year, if we said we'd get to that seven-eight win range, we'd say, 'Well, I'd take that,'" Cloverdale head coach Matthew Langdon said. "We've been talking to the girls about how hard they worked (to get here), but are we content? Are we content with seven wins? Are we content to just go into sectional and give it a good run and have people just say, 'Well, you played an OK game?'

"I think the girls are hungry. I think we've worked hard enough to where we put ourselves in a position where we can go out and compete in a sectional and be somewhat of a contender."

Five of Cloverdale's seven rotation players are seniors. They've got a mix of athletic, ball-hawking guards (Paige Gruener, Amillia Nally and sophomore Bailee Stevens), outside shooting (Bristy Skiles), forwards that can pass and rebound (Sydney Shrum and Katie Walters) and shot-blocking (sophomore Taylor Clark) to give any opponent fits.

"We hang our hat on defense," Langdon said. "We need to allow our girls, our guards, to get in those passing lanes -- we can't just pack it down -- because that's been our strengths. Our guards, our forwards, we've been able to get in passing lanes, and that jump-starts our offense."

The Clovers are allowing just 40.75 points per game, best in the West Central Conference by nearly two points (second-place Cascade gives up 42.7)

Part of that is their deliberate pace, but the Clovers are athletic enough in the backcourt to scare their opponents into slowing down and worrying about mistakes.

Any lazy pass can turn into a layup for Gruener or Stevens.

Cloverdale's weakness this season has been revealed when they're not getting turnovers.

If they get out in transition, the Clovers have put points on the scoreboard. When they don't, and they play from the halfcourt offense, results have been inconsistent.

Nally has vacillated from scorer to distributer. Teams have clogged the paint to stop penetration from Gruener and Stevens, and the outside shooting has been up and down.

When they can't get the ball into the post, letting Shrum look for passing lanes to cutters, the offense has stalled.

"Our offense can't go out and play timid; we have to go out and -- not just play not to lose -- but go out to play to win the game," Langdon said. "Every win we've had is when we get to 40 points. There is no one person, it's a collective unit. We just need to be able to attack, get inside the three-point line.

"When we settle, as a team, for three-point shots, we don't shoot very well. I think it's just always better in basketball to go inside out. I think we just need to, as a collective unit, to get the ball inside more. Whether that's penetrating or dishing the ball to our bigs and then (kicking) out to the guards."

The Clovers have 10 days off between games to figure out how to do that.
Langdon said the team will hold shorter, high-energy practices to try to stay fresh.

They'll have some familiarity with their opponent.

Cloverdale lost to South Putnam on Friday, Jan. 25, but they were in the game until halftime.

If it's Speedway, the Clovers will have plenty of film. Greencastle played the Sparkplugs earlier this year, and the Eagles play them Tuesday.

"We're just going to have to wait and see," Langon said. "We'll go up there Tuesday and watch, and after we find out who we're playing we'll start to really concentrate on how we want to prepare for the game."

If they stay aggressive, and play their game, Langdon said the Clovers will be ready to strike.

"We're going into sectionals Friday hoping that we're going to have what it takes to win that game and then go compete in the sectional final," Langdon said. "Over the second half of the season, we've been playing our best basketball. I've got a lot of confidence in my girls. If we go out and they have that same confidence that we can be in there in the fourth quarter, that's all you can ask.

"That we can be in the game in the fourth quarter in a sectional game and hopefully get to the sectional final."

Cloverdale senior Paige Gruener uses her anticipation and aggressiveness to get herself steals and shots under the basket.
(Banner Graphic/GRANT WIEMAN) [Order this photo]
The Clovers play at Speedway on Friday, Feb. 8 at 6 p.m.

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