By Jon Gremmels
Herald Sports Editor
FULTON, Ill. —
Erie’s girls basketball team is getting pretty good at adjusting to new positions to fill in for injured players.
A volleyball injury sideline Peyton Rus for the season, and one of the other top returning players, Laykin Miner, missed the first part of the season as she recovered from knee surgery. Then on Saturday, a pair of starting guards went down, including first-team all-conference senior Courtney Cobert.
After a little tinkering with the lineup, though, the Cardinals pulled out a 40-38 Three Rivers Conference win against host Fulton on Monday night.
“We had some interesting combinations, and our bench really had to big tonight,” Erie coach Brian Howell said.
“We really adjusted as a team,” Rachel Cobert said.
She had to make one of the biggest adjustments after her sister suffered a concussion Saturday at the Lena-Winslow tournament and Bailee Classen hurt a toe.
“When you’re missing your four-year starting point guard (Courtney Cobert), it’s huge,” Howell said.
Fortunately for the Cardinals, Rachel Cobert, a 5-foot-10 sophomore front-line player, was an adequate replacement.
“We have Rachel, our five, who knows how to run our point guard position,” Miner said.
“(Courtney) said if she can’t play, ‘You have to handle the ball more,’ “ Rachel Cobert said.
She had the ball in her hands a lot, scoring a game-high 17 points, grabbing 11 rebounds and making three assists. And, she got her hands on the ball when Erie needed it the most.
It came after Miner made a free throw with 2 minutes, 11 seconds remaining that gave the Cardinals a 36-35 lead.
“I’ve been out with multiple surgeries, so the only thing I was able to work on was free throws, and free throws are what win games,” Miner said.
She missed the second attempt, though, and Erie missed a follow-up shot, too. But, Cobert grabbed that rebound and scored for a 38-35 lead that Fulton couldn’t overcome.
“Our coach tells us we’ve got to box out; they’re physically bigger,” Cobert said. “Those second-chance buckets might have been what won it tonight.”
Fulton coach Mike Menchaca didn’t have to study the stat sheet to know how the Steamers could have come out on top.
The Steamers made just five of 13 free-throw attempts. They missed their six of their last seven tries — all in the final 2 1/2 minutes — with three of those on the front end of one-and-ones.
“That’s what hurts,” Menchaca said. “In such close games, every one is big.”
Despite the loss, Menchaca liked the effort he saw from the Steamers. Time and again they battled back.
“Digging out of holes has been our theme,” he said. “You can see how hard the kids are fighting. I couldn’t be prouder of my team.”
Fulton’s battle from behind began when Erie scored the final eight points of the first quarter for a 15-7 lead. Cobert scored down low to break a 7-7 tie, assisted on a basket by Bryce McCormick and scored on an inbounds pass from Miner before Miner completed the run with an 8-footer in the lane off her dribble.
But, Fulton worked its way back in the second quarter and scored the last nine points to pull even at 22. Freshman Jordan Price scored six of them, including a putback and a 17-footer from the right wing that rolled around and fell through to tie it with 25 seconds left. Betsy Leonard had the other three.
Miner and Cobert worked another inbounds play for a basket to open the second-half scoring, and Erie eventually worked the lead to 32-27 on an inside basket by McCormick with 1:18 left in the third quarter.
Once again, Fulton responded, this time in dramatic fashion. Trailing 32-28, they got the ball back on a turnover with 6.8 seconds left, came down the court and got a 3-point basket from 5-2 sophomore guard Averi Leitzen just before the buzzer sounded to pull within 32-31.
“We knew how much time was left,” she said. “I turned, saw the rim and shot.”
In the fourth quarter, Leitzen gave Fulton its first lead since 2-0 when she made a pair of free throws with 3:08 left to make it 35-34.
“One of our goals is we never want to give up,” said Leitzen, who played all 32 minutes. “We play with a lot of heart. We just have to put it in all four quarters.”
The lead lasted just 10 seconds, though, as Emily Cox (seven points, 11 rebounds) made a tying free throw that set up the final dramatic 2:11.
“We should have had this game,” Leitzen said. “We know it’s a pretty strong conference, and we have to play to their level.”
For Erie (14-7, 4-3 conference), playing its fifth game in as many days, it came down to coming through in a tough situation.
“We had to persevere,” Rachel Cobert said. “We’ve been plagued with injuries this year, but it’s made us realize we have to fill more roles and move forward.”
ERIE 40, FULTON 38
ERIE (14-7, 4-3) — Caitlin Maloney 0 0-0 0, Leela Parrish 1 0-0 2, Lexi Floming 1 1-2 3, Rachel Cobert 7 3-5 17, Bryce McCormick 2 1-4 5, Laykin Miner 2 2-6 6, Emily Cox 2 3-4 7, Morgan Newton 0 0-0 0. Totals 15 10-21 40.
FULTON — Averi Leitzen 3 2-4 11, Camerin Huizenga 0 0-0 0, Autumn Hutton 3 0-0 6, Betsy Leonard 3 2-6 8, Kerrigan Enloe 2 1-2 5, Jordan Price 4 0-1 8, Kim Holland 0 0-0 0, Whitney Wynkoop 0 0-0 0, Faith Kennedy 0 0-0 0. Totals 15 5-13 38.
Erie 15 7 10 8 — 40
Fulton 7 15 9 7 — 38
3-point goals — Fulton 3 (Leitzen 3). Total fouls — Erie 12, Fulton 17. Fouled out — None.