By Mike Pilosof
Liberal, KS-For all of their shortcomings on Saturday night, Charinee Mitchell's team proved that they aren't as far off from the top-tier teams in the conference as some may think.
Not that moral victories sit well at all with the first-year coach.
Reigning conference Most Valuable Player Mollie Mounsey shrugged off a subpar shooting night to finish with 23 points, Silvia Veloso and Vilma Covane each added 10, and No. 13 Seward County beat Garden City 69-53 at the Greenhouse.
"Our girls are building confidence," Mitchell said. "It's one step at a time. This is junior college basketball, so you don't know what to expect from game to game."
Not many pegged this game to be competitive. But it was, and the Saints were in a dog fight for a good portion of the first half.
After falling behind 6-1, Garden City (10-7, 7-6) rallied to tie the game at 6, thanks to a layup and 3-pointer by Abigail Green. While Green was the energizer on both ends of the floor, Kelcy McHenry was the sparkplug, enjoying her best run of the season. The freshman totaled a season-high 13 points in the first half on 6-of-14 shooting, and it was her 3-pointer at the first-quarter buzzer that gave the Broncbusters their first lead of the game, 17-16.
"You see spurts from Kelcy," Mitchell said. "She's still figuring it out, as are the rest of our girls."
The lead changed hands six times in the first 20 minutes with Garden City never able to create separation. But after McHenry knocked down a baseline jumper that put the Broncbusters up 21-20 with 6:00 to go in the second, Garden City went silent. Seward County countered with an 8-0 run to push the Saints lead to 28-21. Then, after Daz'Monique Johnson ended a 4:30 scoring drought with a shot clock buzzer-beating jumper, the brown and gold missed a golden opportunity right before the half.
McHenry and Dejanie Graves missed two open layups in the final minute, which led directly to Mounsey's corner 3 and subsequent three-point play that put Seward County (15-2, 11-2) up 34-23 at the break.
"Seward County is very confident and very efficient," Mitchell said. "Our girls have to build that same type of confidence in order to compete with a team like that."
And the Saints were oozing with confidence to begin the second half.
Sidney Tinner converted a second-chance opportunity, and Veoloso splashed home a 3-pointer from the wing, capping off an 11-0 run that bumped the Saints lead to 39-23 with 6:12 remaining in the third. They were up by as many as 17 in the period before extending that cushion to 22 following Tinner's two free throws halfway through the final quarter.
"Each game is a learning experience," Mitchell said. "But it's hard to gauge where this team is at right now."
McHenry finished the game with 15 points for Garden City, but was 0-for-5 shooting in the second half. Jada Washington added 15 and Green had 14 in 27 minutes. She eventually fouled out.