COLUMBIA CITY — Friday night marked several new beginnings for the Columbia City Lady Eagle basketball squad. The Donald S. Weeks gymnasium was the site of not only the beginning of a new season for the Lady Eagles, but it also marked the beginning of a new era in coaching.
For the first time in 33 years there was a new face directing the Lady Eagles. First-year head coach Amy Shearer directed the Lady Eagles against cross-county rival Whitko.
The Lady Eagles used balanced scoring and timely defensive stops to grab a 65-59 win over the Lady Wildcats.
“The first win is always the toughest,” coach Shearer said, “Starting a season your first win is always the toughest and as a first-year head coach its nice to get that first win also.”
In a first quarter that featured scoring runs by both team, the Lady Wildcats jumped out to an early 5-0 lead on an inside basket by senior Rachelle Kessie and a three-pointer by junior Katee Reiff.
The host Lady Eagles then went on a run of their own, reeling off 16 straight points, including consecutive baskets by senior Sierra Burlage and seven first quarter points by junior Sarah Opliger.
The Wildcats cut the Eagle lead to 16-12 at the end of the first quarter as both teams began to accumulate personal fouls.
“We were out of position a bit defensively,” Shearer noted. “We have some work to do to get into position.”
The Lady Wildcats came back in the second quarter behind the hot shooting hand of junior Karissa Olinske. The junior guard sandwiched consecutive three-pointers between field goals to pull the Lady ’Cats to within three at 34-31.
Sophomore guard Cagney Craig gave the Lady Wildcats a 35-34 lead with 35 seconds left in the half with two free throws. Craig hit five-of-eight free throws in the quarter and seven of 10 for the game.
A free throw by Burlage knotted the score at 35-35, before a buzzer beater by junior Cassie Jones gave Whitko a 37-35 lead at the half.
The Wildcats continued to score at the free throw line after halftime, scoring seven of their 11 third quarter points from the stripe, but it was good interior passing off of penetration by the Lady Eagles that led to easy interior baskets for the hosts.
CC junior Samara Qureshi was the beneficiary of two of those feeds, with her second basket giving the Lady Eagles a 48-47 lead after a three-point play by Kessie had put the Lady Wildcats up 47-46.
The fourth quarter began with the Eagles holding a slim 50-48 lead. A basket and two free throws by Whitko’s Jones produced yet another tie at 52-52.
With the Wildcats leading 54-52. A basket by Burlage and two free throws by Corinna Raypole put the Lady Eagles back in front. Another three by Olinske from the right corner closed the gap to 58-57, but that is when the Eagle defense came up with some key stops to seal the win.
After an exchange of still more free throws, a steal, basket and free throw by Opliger opened a 63-59 lead for the Lady Eagles with 59 seconds left in the contest.
Burlage was fouled on the rebound of a missed Wildcat shot and hit both free throws to account for the final 65-59 margin.
The two teams combined to shoot 56 free throws with the Lady Wildcats hitting 23-of-28 and Columbia City converting 17-of-27.
“It was a very rough physical ball game, but anytime you get Columbia City and Whitko together its going to be, after all its county rivalry, and that’s what you have to expect,” Shearer said.
Burlage led the Lady Eagles with 15 points with Opliger hitting for 12 and Raypole for 11. Olinske led the all scorers with 18 points with Micaela Sylvester adding 13 for the Lady ’Cats.
Columbia City opens their season at 1-0, while Whitko falls to 1-1.