Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
WAVERLY — Payton Pryor’s ear-to-ear smile indicated what type of night she had as she walked out of McClain’s locker room.
The freshman had just scored a career-high 19 points, 10 of which came in the second quarter alone, and sank the eventual game-winning shot with 12.3 seconds left on the clock.
“Coach said that I was going to be able to get open on the post,” Pryor said. “The guards found me. I just tried to get open. That’s really it. They gave me the ball and, thankfully, it went in.”
Pryor’s play was the centerpiece of a gritty 59-58 victory over Waverly on Wednesday in a game that certainly had seeding implications in the Division II sectional.
“I’ve been preaching about being gritty,” McClain head coach Jarrod Haines said. “This is a huge win for us because we haven’t really had our backs against the wall and had to come back and win like that. It’s something I’ve never seen from this group. I’m tickled as a coach.”
However, Waverly (9-4) didn’t make it easy for Haines’ team in any sense.
After entering halftime facing a 31-17 deficit, the Tigers came out with rejuvenated in the second half and eventually erased McClain’s 14-point lead altogether. In fact, with 1:52 left in the fourth quarter, Waverly led 57-49.
But down the stretch, McClain (8-5) remained calm, played with poise and forced turnovers that turned into points on the other end.
It’s exactly what Haines wanted to see out of his team at some point this season.
“I didn’t really have a message for them. I was just trying to get them to calm down and relax,” Haines said. “I thought we were doing some uncharacteristic things. But I thought the key late was that Emma Stegbauer kind of picked us up and started to attack with a sense of urgency. We preach gritty and being tough, and I thought our kids were the definition of that in the fourth quarter.”
McClain started the game on a 7-0 run, thanks to buckets from Kyla Burchett and Jaelyn Pitzer. Waverly’s first scored didn’t come until there was 1:42 left in the first quarter, via Paige Carter, to make it 7-2. By the end of the quarter, McClain held a 9-6 lead.
In the second, however, Pryor led the team on a quarter-ending 10-4 run to make it 31-17 at the break. She was effective under the basket and took advantage of nearly every opportunity she had to score.
“Payton is a huge finisher and once we get her to realize that, she’ll be really tough to handle,” Haines said. “I was disappointed with her right out of the gates. I thought she could’ve looked to attack more. But she’s been something this group hasn’t had. She’s kind of our go-to, something that our girls aren’t used to. She works her butt off on the boards and works her butt off on defense. She’s played consistent for us all year, so it’s great to see her have a game like this.”
Having said that, Waverly opened the second half on a 15-4 run to cut the lead to 35-32. That was spearheaded by Carter, Zoiee Smith and Carli Knight, who combined to score 15 points in the eight-minute sequence. McClain was able to stretch the lead to six at 38-32 when Emma Stegbauer hit a 3, but Waverly kept throwing jabs, cutting it to 38-37 heading to the fourth.
Waverly’s Kelli Stewart gave her Tigers their first lead of the contest with 7:39 left in the fourth. That was the beginning of a string of seven straight points for Stewart, giving Waverly a 44-40 advantage with 6:14 remaining.
By the 5:38 mark, Waverly had a 48-40 advantage and maintained the eight-point edge with 1:52 left.
But McClain didn’t hang their heads, didn’t mope, and decided to get back in the ballgame. Behind Stegbauer, Pryor and Brianna Weller, the Tigers willed themselves back into the game with a 10-1 run … one that ended with Pryor’s putback with just 12.3 seconds left.
“I was freaking out the whole time,” Pryor said, smiling. “When it went in, I knew we had no fouls to give and that we just had to get back and play smart defense.”
Pryor added four rebounds to her game-high 19 points while Burchett finished with 12 points. Stegbauer had 11 points, and Weller ended the night with seven points and 12 rebounds.
For Waverly, Carter tallied 17 points and seven rebounds, Knight had 13 points and six boards, Smith finished with 12 points and three assists, and Steward ended with nine points.
McClain is back in action Saturday afternoon, traveling to Washington in FAC action, while Waverly looks to bounce back Thursday evening at West in an SOC II battle.
McClain: 9-22-7-21 — 59
Waverly: 6-11-20-21 — 58
McClain: 23-49 FG, 12-19 FT, 3-14 3 pt., 26 rebounds (Weller 12), 23 turnovers, 8 assists (Burchett 2, Pitzer 2). Scoring: Pryor 19, Burchett 12, Stegbauer 11, Weller 7, Crabtree 4, Pitzer 4, Bolender 2.
Waverly: 22-50 FG, 14-28 FT, 0-3 3 pt., 26 rebounds (Carter 7), 23 turnovers, 8 assists (Smith 3). Scoring: Carter 17, Knight 13, Smith 12, Stewart 9, Thompson 4, Tackett 2, Brown 1.