Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
CHILLICOTHE — After building a near 20-point lead Wednesday night, Chillicothe was forced to sweat late in the fourth quarter.
With 5:17 left in the fourth, the Cavaliers held a 45-28 advantage over Washington. That’s exactly when the Blue Lions decided to dial up defensive pressure, force turnovers and create easy buckets.
With less than two minutes remaining, Washington cut the lead to single digits and pulled to within six points. However, behind strong play from seniors Shawnice Smith and Julia Hall, the Cavaliers (2-4, 2-1 FAC) managed to hang on to win a 54-47 league decision.
“We were pressured a lot in the fourth quarter,” Hall said. “We had a bunch of turnovers but once we got the ball up the court and ran the offensive plays we’ve been working on, that really helped us. We’ve been looking for [Smith] a lot down low and we were able to find her. That helped us a lot.”
Smith was extremely effective all game long as she made a habit of getting to the rim and finishing or drawing a foul.
She finished the contest with a game-high 21 points alongside seven rebounds.
“I’ve been working a lot on my post moves and my shot,” Smith said. “I know I’ll be getting double-teamed so I have to find my way through and score. I try to be there for my teammates and make sure I’m looking for an open spot.”
While Smith and Hall played like veterans, so did freshman Jacey Harding.
Harding eased the load of Smith’s scoring responsibilities while accounting for 11 points. She also turned in six rebounds and four assists for a well-rounded performance.
However, she knows there’s work to be done.
“I think I played decent,” Harding said. “My shots were going in, I was making my lay-ups … but offensively and defensively, I need to get better. I need to dribble better, I can’t force turnovers and I need to help more on defense.”
After a first quarter that saw momentum swing back and forth, Chillicothe took a 12-11 lead into the second. That period saw more of the same as Smith willed the Cavaliers to a 25-23 halftime lead.
Smith was rather quiet in the third, opening things up for Harding and Hall. The pair combined to score eight of the team’s 10 points, while the defense held the Blue Lions (3-2, 2-1 FAC) to just three points.
After taking a 35-26 edge into the final eight minutes, Chillicothe ripped off a 12-6 run to go ahead 47-32. That’s when Washington started to make its run.
Behind Shawna Conger, who connected on 9-of-10 free throw tries in the quarter, as well as Jeleeya Smith with seven fourth quarter points, the Blue Lions pressed the Cavaliers and forced multiple turnovers to claw back into the ballgame.
However, with the game clock on its side, Chillicothe was able to withstand the late push and cling to a seven-point victory.
After Smith and Harding’s performances, Hall had nine points on three triples. Avery Erslan also helped out with seven points while Zoe Ford had four points and four assists.
Conger led the Blue Lions with 16 points while Smith ended with 10 of her own. Halli Wall also helped out with nine points and five rebounds.
Both teams are back in action Saturday as Chillicothe hosts McClain while Washington travels to Jackson.
“When we all play our roles, we can be really good,” Hall said. “When [Smith] is in the post, she’s really good. We just need to get her open. If everybody plays their role and we move the ball well, we can go pretty far.”