By Noah Dalton
One step forward and two steps back, or perhaps two steps forward and one step back?
Whatever the case, Mitchell High School continued their recent run of competitive games, where they eventually fall by four points in the end on Tuesday, as they travelled to Paoli to take on their Patoka Lake Athletic Conference Opponents, the Rams.
Oddly enough, this is the team’s third in their last five that had ended with them losing by exactly four points. The other two were a double-digit loss to 4A squad Bloomington North, a game which the Bluejackets led at halftime and a 22-point victory over Shoals.
After a winless December, where Mitchell were routinely losing games by double digits, this change has been welcome one, though their overall record wouldn’t reflect the considerable improvement the team has shown in recent weeks, as they’ve gone 1-4 in that stretch.
To put this point into perspective, across those five losses combined, the Bluejackets have lost by a total of 27 points. Even adding all five games together, that is still less than the 34 point defeat they suffered at the hands of Eastern (Pekin) in the game before this run started in Princeton.
Mitchell head coach Tim Haworth said the way he has seen his team play recently is more in-line with what he had expected they were capable of at the beginning of the year, despite an almost constant fight with injuries.
“When we get Malaya Tanglao back, that’s what I had envisioned at the very beginning once we got everyone. Like I’ve said, it’s not a crutch, but it’s the truth. Anybody who watches knows it’s the truth. It’s about the injuries that we have had to go through. We’re just now finally starting to get into a groove here a little bit,” he said.
To his point, the team was missing one of their leading scorers, Mylea Slone, for the first few games of the year, as she was out with a lower body injury. After she returned to the lineup, she was then forced to miss more time after reaggravating her injury. Once she was back, starting guard Zoey Smith was forced to miss time with an illness.
As she came back, the team lost one of their frequent starters Taylor Lee, when she went down against Princeton with a leg injury that will keep her out for the remainder of the season, as well as starting guard Malaya Tanglao, who missed her second straight game on Tuesday with a concussion.
Nevertheless, the team has persisted and began hitting their stride at what feels like the right time with only a few games remaining in the regular season and sectional play on the horizon.
“One thing that you can say about our girls is that we’re going to come out to give you our best shot,” Haworth said. “We’re trending in the right direction here and when it comes to sectional time, nobody talks about records. Not in all my years, nobody has ever said, ‘oh, we’re going to do it by papers and let’s just go ahead and give it to whoever.’ But that’s what I tell the kids. Nobody’s gonna talk about records come sectional time. It’s one game elimination and I like our opportunities there.”
After a relatively tame first quarter against the Rams, which Paoli came out of with a 10-6 lead, both offenses exploded in the second quarter, each scoring 19 points. Mitchell’s Mylea Slone was unstoppable in the period, scoring 14 points while shooting 66% from the floor. Her efforts were aided by Brooklyn Peterson, who connected on two field goals and Jillian Bond, who sank a free-throw attempt.
Both offenses were back to struggling in the third, with both teams scoring single digit points on 30% shooting. First the first and only time in the game, the Bluejackets were able to outscore the Rams throughout an entire quarter, 9-8, though it was not enough for them to take the lead, with them still trailing by one entering the fourth.
The scoring pace continued in the fourth, with both teams again posting a single digit scoring total in the quarter. Mitchell began the quarter down by three, which was the lowest they were able to get Paoli’s lead down the stretch, with the Rams striking first early in the period and the Bluejackets left trying to play catch-up for the duration of play.
In each of these recent close losses, the Bluejackets have had an offensive stretch over the duration of a quarter or so, where the team has struggled to point up points, creating problems for them in these close matchups. Against the Rams on Tuesday, that was the first, where they were outscored by four, which ended up being the margin of the game.
Haworth said these slow stretches come as part of the team’s offensive play style, where things are run through the middle on most possessions, seeking interior looks or attempts from the free-throw line.
“A lot of that has to do with our game. Our game is inside. Now those lulls come when we’re attacking the rim and we’re not getting the free throw line,” he said.
Something else that has made it difficult for a consistent offensive output for the team has been the lack of balanced scoring, as the trio of Bond, Peterson and Slone continue to dominate the box score for the Bluejackets, scoring 38 of the team’s 41 points against Paoli. Others on the team will need to be unafraid to take shots and be aggressive on offense to help alleviate some of that pressure from those three on that end of the floor.
“We’ve got to be able to stay away from those lulls, and that’s where we need somebody else, we’ve got to find another person, maybe Tanglao can be that other person, that’s going to get a perimeter shot,” Haworth said.
In a game like this, every play counts and when all was said and done, Mitchell simply left too many points on the table. Shooting 34% from the floor, primarily on looks around the rim, along with seven missed free-throws across 14 attempts at the line.
“It’s not always the fourth quarter, it’s from the start to the finish, everything always adds up. And if you look at our first half, if we knock down some free-throws in that first half. If we maybe make just a couple more shots, then we should probably have a lead,” said Haworth.
In many of the team’s losses on the year, turnovers had been their biggest weakness, with the team often turning the ball over 20-plus times in some of their more substantial defeats, however against Paoli the Bluejackets actually won the turnover battle, forcing 15 turnovers, while giving the ball up just 11 times themselves.
Rebounding was also killer for Mitchell last night, with the team getting outrebounded 28-22, giving up key baskets inside after allowing offensive rebounds.
The Bluejackets’ record on the year is now 4-15, with a 1-3 record in PLAC conference play. The team will next travel to Salem on Saturday for a matinee game to take on a struggling Lions team, currently at 3-17 on the season after losing four of their last five. That game will tip off at 1:30 p.m.
- Mylea Slone – 19 points, 8/21 shooting, 1/4 FT, 3 rebounds
- Jillian Bond – 5 points, 1/8 shooting, 3/6 FT, 5 rebounds
- Brooklyn Peterson – 14 points, 7/13 shooting, 0/1 FT, 8 rebounds
- Zoey Smith – 0 points, 0/2 shooting, 0/0 FT, 2 rebound
- Briley Dicks – 1 points, 0/2 shooting, 1/2 FT, 4 rebounds
- Grace Thompson – 2 points, 0/0 shooting, 2/2 FT, 0 rebounds
- Izzy Duncan – 0 points, 0/1 shooting, 0/0 FT, 0 rebounds
- Jackie Crews – 19 points, 6/13 shooting, 6/9 FT, 2 rebounds
- Amelia Hess – 5 points, 1/3 shooting, 2/2 FT, 2 rebounds
- River Fleming – 2 points, 1/2 shooting, 0/1 FT, 2 rebounds
- Carley Higgins – 3 points, 1/6 shooting, 1/2 FT, 13 rebounds
- Maddie Vernon – 6 points, 3/3 shooting, 0/0 FT, 3 rebounds
- Ryleigh Anderson – 8 points, 4/7 shooting, 0/0 FT, 5 rebounds
- Jericho Hopper – 2 points, 1/2 shooting, 0/0 FT, 1 rebound