By Dan Angell
For the Herald
Finding a primary strategy for attacking the Pleasant Valley defense wasn’t a problem for Clinton in the River Queens’ 58-39 loss to the Spartans on Friday night.
The problem was finding more than one plan of attack.
Clinton repeatedly found Erin Wenzel underneath the basket, which resulted in the senior leading all scorers with 24 points, but the rest of the River Queens couldn’t find open looks. Clinton didn’t get a basket from someone other than Wenzel until Halle Davis’ 3-pointer with two minutes left in the third quarter, and by that time, the Spartans’ perimeter assault had proven too much as PV gradually pulled away to win the Mississippi Athletic Conference girls basketball game.
“Erin did a great job, and that was probably her best game of the season,” Clinton coach Mike Halac said. “But we have to have some other people step up and do some scoring. That’s me coaching them and making sure they’re as confident as they need to be, looking to do those things and not just relying on Erin.”
The strategy of relying on Wenzel paid dividends in the first half for the River Queens (3-11, 2-9 MAC), who were able to play with the Spartans (9-7, 7-4) up until the 5:36 mark of the second quarter. That’s when Erin Moser began a stretch that left Clinton in a hole it would never escape.
Over a span of 73 seconds, Moser buried three shots from behind the arc, quickly turning a 15-14 battle into a 10-point lead despite the River Queens’ pressure.
“Even with the hand up, they were still shooting,” Wenzel said. “They were hitting tonight, and it’s hard (to stop). You can’t really do much more than what we were doing.”
The River Queens were able to track the Spartans’ shooters, but Pleasant Valley still managed to hit 11 shots from the perimeter, led by four from Moser, who had 13 points. Sydney Dwyer and Maddie Reynolds each added 12, giving the Spartans a balanced attack that Clinton could not match. Elle Tubbs had seven points along with Wenzel’s high mark, but the rest of the Queens could not find the basket until it was too late.
“Defense always looks better when you’re scoring points,” Halac said. “Hopefully we’re going to start peaking at the right time, and if we’re able to score points in the right situations, those defensive miscues won’t be a big deal. But when you’re struggling to score as much as we are right now, every defensive lapse hurts. It’s hard to get one basket back, especially when they hit from deep.”
Despite that, Halac and Wenzel both saw reason for hope. Even with their offensive struggles, the River Queens found an effective strategy and were never more than 15 points down until the final quarter against one of the better squads in the MAC.
“We started rushing, and that really hurt us,” Wenzel said. “But all in all, we played a really hard game. We knew that if we reversed it quickly around the outside and got the high-low pass that we would get a lot of inside shots, and it really did work.”
The question is whether Clinton can find another workable strategy in the few games it has remaining before regionals begin. The River Queens will find out who their postseason foes are on Monday, and Halac hopes his team will turn a corner soon after.
“We’re down to that grind of the season where not only does it come down to talent, but it comes down to hard work and dedication,” Halac said. “We’re a team that’s really dedicated, and I’m hoping that’s building to that peak. We want to hit it right when we start the playoffs.”
PLEASANT VALLEY 58, CLINTON 39
CLINTON (3-11, 2-9) — Erin Wenzel 10 4-6 24, Jordan Nelson 0 1-2 1, Alyssa Butt 1 2-2 4, Elle Tubbs 2 2-4 7, Halle Davis 1 0-0 3, Totals 14 9-14 39.
PLEASANT VALLEY (9-7, 7-4) — Erin Moser 4 1-1 13, Sydney Dwyer 4 1-2 12, Miranda Price 2 0-0 4, Abby Elceser 1 1-4 3, Lana Lindstrom 2 2-2 7, Maddie Reynolds 4 1-1 12, Jenae Bishop 2 1-2 5, Emily Paul 1 0-0 2, Totals 20 7-12 58.
Clinton 10 9 6 14 — 39
Pleasant Valley 12 20 7 19 — 58
3-point goals — Clinton 2 (Tubbs, Davis), Pleasant Valley 11 (Moser 4, Dwyer 3, Reynolds 3, Lindstrom)