By Brad Morris
Opening the season on Friday against defending Mid-State League Buckeye Division champion Fairfield Union provided Circleville coach Brian Bigam with a measuring stick to see where the Tigers stack up.
And while Bigam saw some items that he will want the Tigers to work on, he left the Horizon Gymnasium pleased with the grit and tenacity his team played with, especially on the defensive end, to claim a 40-34 win over the visiting the Falcons.
Circleville clamped down on defense after allowing Fairfield Union five baskets in the opening quarter to limit its guest to just eight field goals over the final 24 minutes of play.
“We talk about handling adversity and that not everything is going to go your way all the time, and I felt like our girls did that after the first quarter,” Bigam said. “We settled down after the first quarter and our girls played their rear ends off and competed well with playing our quarter-and-half-court man defense.”
The league opener was a physical and sloppy encounter at times with the two teams combining for 34 turnovers, 18 of which were committed by the Falcons.
Christian Thompson knocked down four of the Falcons’ five field goals in the opening stanza and scored 10 points to help stake Fairfield Union to a 13-6 lead.
The Tigers clamped down on the sophomore forward after her hot start and limited Thompson to just four points the rest of the way.
“I felt like we came out with some first game jitters there in the first quarter and got off to a little slower start than what we wanted to,” Bigam said. “We gave up a few putback baskets and Thompson got loose and hit a couple of threes there in the first quarter.”
After shooting just 2 of 16 (12.5 percent) in the first quarter, the Tigers started to heat up in the second, knocking down 6 of 12 (50 percent).
Maddie Blakeman helped to ignite an 8-0 run the open the quarter with a three-pointer and runner and Gabby McConnell knocked down a three-pointer from the right corner to give the Tigers a 14-13 lead.
The Tigers led by as many as six points in the quarter, following another runner by Maddie Blakeman, before settling on a 21-18 advantage going into halftime.
Elly Lewis had all five points in the quarter for the Falcons, who shot just 2 of 8 (25 percent) and committed six turnovers.
“It was a physical game with bodies flying at times and the officials allowed both teams to play hard,” Bigam observed. “Fairfield Union has some nice height and length, so we felt like two keys coming into the game was boxing out to keep them off the glass and then denying them the ability to run their offense through the post or high post.
“We go as Faith Yancey goes on defense, because she brings a tremendous energy to the court. She did a great job of getting out in the passing lanes, getting a few deflections and steals that helped to get our offense going. Then, Gabby McConnell, Maddux Bigam and Addisyn Ndayitwayeko did an excellent job in the post to make it hard for Fairfield Union to run its offense.”
Bigam highlighted McConnell holding Nicole Terry, a special mention all-district player a season ago, to just three points.
“If you told me that we would hold Terry to three points before the game, I would have said sign me up for that,” he said. “Gabby did a phenomenal job of sticking on Terry and shutting her down.”
Fairfield Union (0-1, 0-1) briefly tied the game in the third quarter, but never led again for the rest of the evening. A three-pointer in the left corner by Thompson cut the CHS lead to 36-34 with 36.2 seconds remaining.
Maddie Blakeman knocked down a pair of free throws on the next CHS possession, then took a feed from McConnell and laid in two more with nine seconds remaining to put away the season-opening win.
Circleville finished the night 17 of 50 (34 percent) from the field compared to Fairfield Union shooting 13 of 44 (29.5 percent).
Maddie Blakeman scored a game-high 15 points in her varsity debut to lead the Tigers. Morgan Blakeman had five of her 10 points in the fourth quarter and also pulled down 13 rebounds, and McConnell chipped in seven points and six rebounds.
“That was a great first night for Maddie,” Bigam said. “Maddie is only a freshman, but she has a very high basketball IQ and absolutely loves playing the game. She sees the floor well, can hit the runner and also knock down the three.”
The Tigers (1-0, 1-0) continue league play on Tuesday at Bloom-Carroll, another team that is expected to vie for the league championship this season led by junior guard Emily Bratton, a Division I prospect.
“It’s another opportunity to see where we stack up against one of the top teams in our league,” Bigam said. “We’ll try and clean up a few things that we saw in this game, but we’ll take that grit and tenacity forward with us. If we can compete like that every night, then I think we can do some good things this season.”
Fairfield Union 34
FAIRFIELD UNION — Nicole Terry 1-1-3, Elly Lewis 4-0-9, Christian Thompson 5-2-14, Jill Wilkinson 1-1-3, Samantha Sattler 2-0-5 Three-point goals — Elly Lewis (2), Christian Thompson (2) and Samantha Sattler. Total — 13-44 4-9 34.
CIRCLEVILLE — Morgan Blakeman 4-2-10, Faith Yancey 1-0-2, Makya Cockerham 1-0-2, Maddie Blakeman 6-2-15, Gabby McConnell 3-0-7, Addisyn Ndayitwayeko 2-0-4. Three-point goals — Gabby McConnell and Maddie Blakeman. Total — 17-50 4-10 40.
Quarter scores 1 2 3 4 F
Fairfield Union 13 5 7 9 34
Circleville 6 15 8 11 40
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