Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
SARDINIA — From the get-go Monday evening, Eastern Brown knew what it was up against.
Hosting county and conference rival North Adams, the Warriors were forced to absorb the Green Devils’ best punches early and often. Minutes into the first quarter, Eastern trailed 8-0 and, late in the second half, they were down 48-40.
But from the get-go, facing any sort of deficit didn’t seem to phase the No. 2 ranked team in Division III.
The Warriors (14-0, 6-0 SHAC) patiently waited to make their run before doing just that in the fourth quarter, outscoring the Green Devils by a 20-10 margin and stealing a 55-51 win to stay at the top of the Southern Hills Athletic Conference standings.
“[North Adams] basically outplayed us for at least 26 or 27 minutes. I just felt like, at the end, we were able to just maintain and kind of hang around,” Eastern coach Kevin Pickerill said. “Even when we got the lead, I didn’t feel comfortable. We were playing a little on our heels and [North Adams] was playing with a lot of confidence. But in the fourth quarter, we came out of that. Our senior guards played with poise and [Rylee] Leonard played like a junior or a senior again.”
Leonard was the ringleader in the fourth quarter, willing her way through the lane and finishing at the bucket. She scored a team-high 23 points and, as Pickerill alluded to, played like a seasoned veteran.
Eastern continuously gave her the ball in critical situations and Leonard continuously answered the bell.
“She didn’t force things,” Pickerill said. “When you’re down six or seven late, and you think about a freshman with the ball in her hands, you think she may try to force something. She didn’t. She looked for the next best thing and what was best for the team. That’s why we won the game. I can’t express enough how important that was.”
On the opposite end of the spectrum, North Adams (8-4, 4-2 SHAC) used 6-foot junior Delaney Harper to carry a lead throughout most of the second half.
Eastern’s Mackenzie Gloff, the Warriors’ starting post player, found herself in foul trouble throughout a good portion of the contest. That allowed Harper to have her way in the paint, scoring a game-high 30 points while bringing down 11 rebounds.
Next to Gloff on the Warriors’ bench was Caitlyn Wills, another regular starter for Eastern who suffered an ankle injury early in the first half. Wills did see minutes after the injury but they were few and far in between.
“Over the last couple of games, we’ve had to go through a little adversity,” Pickerill said. “We didn’t have Caitlyn up at Adena at all [in a 58-45 win on Jan. 2], and then she gets hurt tonight. Mackenzie gets in foul trouble and here you are playing without two starters. It just changes the game plan. You have to have a ‘next man up’ mentality. That kind of shows you what type of team we are.”
After the Green Devils darted out to an 8-0 lead behind 3’s from Harper and Braylie Jones, Leonard got the Warriors get back on track, spearheading a 9-0 run to take a 9-8 lead. Emma Brown later scored to make it 13-11 before Emma Prine made it 15-11 heading into the second.
In the second, Leonard hit a triple to push the lead to 18-13 before the Green Devils came storming back to take a 19-18 lead with 3:48 left. Tied 21-21, Leonard drilled a pair of free throws and Camryn Pickerill dialed long distance, making it a 26-21 game at halftime.
Out of the break, the Green Devils turned up the heat.
Led by Harper, they took a 28-26 lead with 6:39 remaining and then went on an 11-5 run, seizing a 39-31 advantage with 2:44 to go. By the end of the third quarter, North Adams’ lead was 41-35 with Wills confined to the bench and Gloff in serious foul trouble.
At the 6:16 mark in the fourth, Harper converted a three-point play under the bucket to stretch the lead to 48-40. It looked as if the Warriors might suffer their first loss of the 2019-20 season.
But it’s at that moment when Eastern decided to kick things into second gear.
Leonard and Pickerill, the Warriors’ one-two punch, led a furious 11-0 run that gave their team a 51-48 lead late in the game. From that point, Eastern hits its free throws to stay perfect and snatch a victory from the jaws of defeat.
“We usually talk about the [fourth] quarter, which is where we can pull away,” Leonard said. “We’re in shape and we can tire teams out in the fourth quarter. We just have to keep digging and digging. There’s always more you can give. We just have to keep improving on our roles, really work on the details and get everything perfect.”
After Leonard’s 23 points, Pickerill added 13 of her own alongside four rebounds and three assists. Brown ended with eight points and six rebounds off the bench, and Gloff had six points.
After Harper’s double-double, North Adams’ Wylie Shipley had seven points and four assists while Mary Sonner finished with five points and four boards. Karissa Buttelwerth didn’t score but she passed out a game-high six assists and brought down four rebounds.
The Warriors are back in action on Thursday at Manchester while the Green Devils look to get back on track, hosting Whiteoak the same evening.
“I can’t say enough about the kids and their ability to step up when called upon,” Pickerill said. “This game is a big one. It’s a great rivalry and it’s a friendly rivalry. But when you cross the lines, it’s all business and both teams want to win. It fires you up. Anything you can do to build momentum, you do it. [North Adams] did a great job. They gave us their best punch. We were able to take it and give them a shot, too.”
North Adams: 11-12-18-10 — 51
Eastern Brown: 15-11-9-20 — 55
North Adams: 20-58 FG, 6-12 FT, 5-18 3 pt., 37 rebounds (Harper 11), 13 turnovers, 14 assists (Buttelwerth 6). Scoring: Harper 30, Shipley 7, Sonner 5, Call 4, Jones 3, Howell 2.
Eastern Brown: 18-41 FG, 14-21 FT, 5-14 3 pt., 20 rebounds (Brown 6), 9 turnovers, 8 assists (Pickerill 3). Scoring: Leonard 23, Pickerill 13, Brown 8, Gloff 6, Frost 3, Prine 2.