The size of the deficit caught some of the Juneau-Douglas High School girls basketball players by surprise.
The Crimson Bears, who had been tied with the Lathrop Malemutes at halftime, found themselves trailing by 13 points late in the third quarter of the season-opener for both teams at Lathrop High School in Fairbanks.
One player said she didn't even realize Juneau was so far behind. But others did, which helped the Crimson Bears rally to claim a 54-49 victory over the team that's been picked to win the Region VI-Class 4A (Fairbanks-area) title.
"I thought it was 11 or 12 (points)," new Juneau coach Lesslie Knight said in a phone interview after the game. "It was scary. But we picked up our defense and we played our hearts out. We finally capitalized on offense. We were real jittery."
"I looked over at the score and noticed we were lagging behind," Juneau junior point guard Kendri Cesar said. "In the fourth quarter we came together and got them on their heels. We made a couple of shots and got things going. At the end, we were running a lot harder and we wanted it more."
The game was even through the first half, as the teams were tied 9-9 at the end of the first quarter and 23-23 at halftime. But Lathrop went on a run keyed by Kari Reabold and Alana Clooten that gave the Malemutes a 41-28 lead with 2 minutes, 49 seconds left in the third quarter.
"To tell you the truth, I didn't realize the score," Juneau senior forward Amy Neussl said. "But I wasn't worried. We did a lot better in the second half."
"We had to pick it up," Juneau senior post Danielle Larson added. "I didn't think we'd be that jittery. When we were down 14 (Fairbanks Daily News-Miner sports editor said the official scorekeeper didn't record a made free-throw by Reabold during Lathrop's run), we knew we had to pick it up. We started playing nicely after that."
Juneau junior forward made a shot with 2:38 left in the quarter that started a 10-2 run by the Crimson Bears to close out the third quarter. That put Juneau within striking distance for the final period, as the Crimson Bears trailed by just five points, 43-38, entering the fourth quarter. Led by the forward trio of Neussl, Larson and Letasha McKoy, Juneau outscored Lathrop 16-6 in the fourth quarter.
"We got it inside early on, but they checked us on every shot," Knight said about Lathrop's defense. "They outrebounded us 33-24, and I think we only had five offensive rebounds all game."
After Juneau finally got the lead, Knight said the Crimson Bears slowed things down and forced the Malemutes into mistakes.
"We spread it out and we were almost stalling," Knight said. "We opened it up, and they were rushing their shots."
Larson scored 15 points to lead Juneau (1-0), while Neussl added 14 points, Cesar scored 10 and McKoy chipped in nine.
The Crimson Bears were breaking in a new head coach, plus they were making adjustments having lost six players from last year's team to graduation. But Neussl said the changes weren't that big a problem.
"It's not as much as you might think," Neussl said. "Coach Knight's been with the team (as an assistant) last year and we played without the seniors this summer at camp. It was just our first game. We were pretty tired, but we got it together."
Lathrop (0-1) was led by Reabold's 19 points, while Clooten added 14 and Erika Stevens scored eight points. Reabold had five blocked shots, but left the game in the fourth quarter because of leg cramps.
"It was just first-game jitters, mainly," Cesar said. "We feel a lot more confident now."
"We got that first game out of the way," Larson said. "We'll do better now."
Juneau plays at North Pole at 6 tonight, then concludes its three-game road trip at noon Saturday at West Valley. The Crimson Bears will host the Capital City Classic on Dec. 27-30 for their first home games.
Charles Bingham can be reached at email@example.com.
CRIMSON BEARS 54, MALEMUTES 49
Thursday's girls game from Lathrop High School
JUNEAU-DOUGLAS (54) - Alida Bus 2 0-0 4, Nicole Lupro 0 0-0 0, Julie Heard 0 0-0 0, Kendri Cesar 5 0-0 10, Bianca Carpeneti 0 0-0 0, Heather Dillon 0 0-0 0, Mary Rehfeld 1 0-0 2, Amy Neussl 5 1-4 14, Danielle Larson 6 3-5 15, Letasha McKoy 3 2-2 9, Sophia Smith 0 0-0 0, Ashley Larson 0 0-0 0. Totals: 22 6-11 54.
LATHROP (49) - Haley Alexander 0 0-0 0, Angela Smith 0 0-0 0, Kari Reabold 6 4-5 19, Erika Stevens 3 2-2 8, Kelly Donovan 0 0-0 0, Jennifer Claxton 0 0-0 0, Demi Wilson 0 0-0 0, Alana Clooten 7 0-0 14, Shanna Brown 3 0-2 6, Meagan Sharp 0 0-0 0, Sheena Brown 1 0-0 2, Sade Powell 0 0-0 0. Totals: 20 6-9 49.
JUNEAU-DOUGLAS 9 14 15 16 - 54
LATHROP 9 14 20 6 - 49
3-point goals - Juneau-Douglas 4 (Neussl 3, McKoy 1), Lathrop 3 (Reabold 3). Fouled out - None. Technical fouls - None. Total fouls - Juneau-Douglas 10, Lathrop 11.