TV 40 Arlington 30
Saturday night was Senior Night, and the five girls who represented the class of 2014 had to wait their turn, sitting through two junior varsity games, and a boys’ varsity game. But when their time came, the Wildcats continued the magic that has marked the second half of their season, ending the year with a 10th straight win and capturing a home playoff game for the first time since 2007. Playing against league foe Arlington would prove to be a final test of their will, and it took an extra dose of encouragement from coach Buddy Hayford to get the “W.”
Neither team played well in the first half, nor could they seem to buy a bucket. Arlington came out in the first half with a zone defense rather than their usual man-to-man, and Twin Valley couldn’t find a way to exploit the seams. The Wildcats had two shots waved off in the first half of the quarter, both of which would have given a chance for a three-point play, with a foul called on the floor. It wasn’t until 2:30 left in the quarter that senior guard Sammy Cunningham-Darrah struck gold with a three-bomb to put her team up 3-2. Colton Butler would also knock down a three, but the Wildcats could find no other answers, and found themselves down 7-6 after the first 12 minutes, in what was playing out as a defensive struggle
The second half showed no more mercy than the first, and the ‘Cats made too many obvious and avoidable turnovers to create any kind of momentum. They would take the lead for a fleeting moment as Cunningham-Darrah got a steal and a bucket, and Savannah Nesbitt found the basket off a steal of her own. Hannah Swanson put the ‘Cats up 12-11, but Arlington’s Molly Elwell hit a shot to put them in the lead 13-12 at the half.
For Hayford, the halftime speech was a no-brainer. It was time for his squad to take over the game, and for his seniors to step up as they had all year. “We had a discussion about it being senior night, and I told them they were flat out getting out-worked,” said Hayford. “I stressed the fact that they’re much better than showing 12 points at halftime. The goal was to go out in the second half and prove it.”
Prove it they did, making zone defensive adjustments, and taking advantage of their offensive opportunities. With less than five minutes to go Nesbitt switched her gears to a new level. After receiving a tough blocking foul while trying to take a charge, Nesbitt scored five straight points, and provided a spark, one you would expect from a team leader on her senior night. Butler also came alive, knocking down one of her two second-half three-pointers. The third quarter has proven to be pivotal for Twin Valley this season, and on Saturday night, the trend continued with a 13-3 scoring margin. From that point on, the Wildcats played tough on defense, and swiftly on offense. Teya Johnson hit two big-time threes in the fourth along with threes from Cunningham-Darrah and Butler to seal the deal.
The Wildcats’ defense held Arlington’s top scorers Molly Elwell and Julia LaCoste to just two and seven points respectively. Brooke Hawley led the Eagles with eight points on the night. Nesbitt had 10 points, five assists, and five steals, while Butler and Cunningham-Darrah combined for 17 points. Swanson led all rebounders with 11.
The Wildcats’ 16-4 season record surpassed even the expectations of their coach. “Going into the season I had high hopes this team would do well,” said Hayford. “The worst case scenario would have been a 10-10 season and I thought we had the potential to win 14 games. We were 6-4 at the midway point and I sat the captains down and told them there was no reason why we cannot win out and lo and behold, that’s what happened. It became another goal of theirs.”