By Ryan Divish
If Big Sandy head girls basketball coach Roy Lackner seemed unusually relaxed following his team's far from flawless 50-29 victory over KG in Thursday afternoon's 9C semifinal, it's because he's seen this type of thing before.
In the 25 years that he has been bringing the Pioneers to the 9C, they always seem to be just a little sluggish in that opening game. Could it be pre-tournament jitters? Maybe. Or is it the fact that they always seem to have a first-round bye and their opponents have one tournament game under their belt? Maybe. Realistically, it's probably a bit of both.
"We didn't do the things we wanted to do today," Lackner said. "That first game you always look so bad with the opening- game jitters and your opponent already playing a game. It gets all messed up."
Most teams would love to have a messed-up performance that resulted in a 21-point win. However, Big Sandy isn't most teams. But KG may have had a little to do with the sluggish Pioneer start.
The KouGars fought and scrapped the entire first half and trailed, 22-17, with two minutes remaining in the half. However, a pair of key three-pointers by Ashley Goodian bumped the lead up to 28-17 at halftime.
Any hopes of a KG rally coming out after halftime were quelled by Goodian. The junior guard stroked back-to-back threes in the middle of the third quarter to put the game out of reach.
"Give KG credit. They played us pretty tough," Lackner said. "They made some shots and kept things close for awhile. Ashley hit some big shots and that got us going."
Besides scoring, Goodian did a good job of slowing down Arifin in the second half, making KG's best player work on both ends of the floor.
Goodian and center Sheena Darlington led Big Sandy in scoring with 14 points apiece while Lindsey Danreuther added 10.
Arifin led the KouGars with 14 points while Mandy Rambo added six points on a pair of three-pointers.
Darlington, who is still fighting the effects of a knee injury, was unusually quiet in scoring her 14 and the taped-up knee obviously hindered her mobility.
"Sheena wasn't moving very well," Lackner said. "It's still bothering her some. We may try putting a brace on it next game."
Lackner is confident his team will have a stronger showing in Saturday night's championship game against Box Elder.
"I think we'll play a little better on Saturday night," Lackner said. "We have to be better."
Indeed, the Pioneers know full well that every team would love nothing more than knocking them off.
"Everybody wants to beat us," Lackner said. "We know that. We're not worried about that. We know that we will have to get beaten twice to knock us out of divisionals."
One of those teams will be waiting for them in the championship in the Box Elder Bears. Despite defeating the Bears quite convincingly during the season, Lackner isn't about to look past them.
"We need to do what we do best," Lackner said.
What Big Sandy does best is control the tempo and pace of the game while getting Darlington involved and taking shots. The key to that is to have Goodian and Danreuther hitting from the outside.
"It just opens the middle up so much for Sheena," Lackner said. "If we're making our outside shots, it's game over."