Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: Thatcher’s Ashlyn Thompson drives into the lane. Thatcher defeated ALA-Ironwood, 59-29 on Friday night.
By Jon Johnson
THATCHER – The Thatcher Eagles girl’s basketball team (6-0 region, 12-1 conference, 16-5 overall) dominated the visitors from American Leadership Academy-Ironwood (3-3 region, 7-7 conference, 8-10 overall) on Friday night, defeating the Warriors 59-29.
“We were so much bigger than them (I wanted them) to get it anywhere near the rim, and go up and get a rebound. That was our plan . . . I’m proud of my team.”
Olivia Lunt was huge for the Eagles, scoring a game-high 21 points as she attacked the paint early and often. The Warriors had no match for the Eagles’ front court size, and time after time Thatcher collected rebounds and scored putbacks at the rim.
It was close early on, however, as the two teams were knotted up at 14-14 with 4:56 left in the second quarter after ALA’s Loanne Billon hit her fourth 3-pointer of the half. But the Eagles went on a tear at that point and finished the half on a 14-2 run to go up big, 28-16 at the half.
The run was sparked by the defense, and after Billon hit her nailed her fourth 3-pointer, coach Griffin had a player attached to her hip in a box-and-1 approach. Aubrey Pace put in the most time on Billon and frustrated her to the point of causing an offensive foul. Billon only had one more 3-pointer the rest of the game (while Pace was out) and coach Griffin quickly reinserted the Billon-stopper Pace shortly afterward.
“We had to stop her (Billon),” coach Griffin said. “She can shoot from forever away. It’s impressive. I’ve never seen a girl shoot that many shots, ever.”
Billon is from France and Griffin said she told him the high school 3-point line is further back there, so she is used to shooting from further away.
Lunt got help on the offensive end from Pace as well, who scored 8 points on the night. Haley Nicholas also put in work, driving the lane and hitting for 10 points on the night. Other scorers for Thatcher include Hailey Smith with 7; Ashlyn Thompson with 6; Molly Brown with 3, and Camille Bryce and Makenzie Sweet had 2 points each in reserve.
Thatcher’s defense held ALA-Ironwood to just 13 total second-half points while the Eagles scored 22 in the third quarter alone – bolstered by paint play by Lunt and Nicholas, and two 3-pointers by Pace in the third quarter. The lead swelled to 30 points and triggered the mercy rule fourth-quarter running clock.
Billon led the way for the Warriors with 19 points, followed by Carmen Mendez with 6, and Jaidyn Jones and Kayla Lewis-Culver with 2 points each.
Thatcher has just four regular-season games left and they are against four regional opponents they have already blown out in their first encounter. The Eagles will next travel to face the San Tan Foothills Sabercats on Monday, Jan. 31, starting at 5:30 p.m. They will then have two home games against Coolidge (Feb. 4) and Globe (Feb. 8) before finishing the regular season at Florence on Feb. 11. With a subpar regular-season schedule remaining, coach Griffin said the team is practicing hard to not get a letdown before the playoffs start. As it currently looks, Thatcher is vying for a number 1 or 2 seed.
“Right now we’re focusing on sprinting – not running the court but literally sprinting on everything – (and) fundamentals,” coach Griffin said. “In practice, we’ve changed things up to where our starters are playing each other and really pushing each other. So, we’re just trying to make our practices harder.”