By STEVE GOLDMAN
For the Star Beacon
Could the recent struggles endured by the Madison girls have something to do with the year 2013? They hope not, because there is nothing they can do about that.
But, when the ball dropped in Times Square to signify the New Year, the Blue Streaks had a 9-1 record. Now, following Wednesday’s 47-35 loss at Euclid, it’s 10-5, marking their fourth defeat in the last five games.
Madison is still 6-2 in the Premier Athletic Conference, one game behind Geneva. But Blue Streaks coach Mike Smith can see his team’s chances for a league title disappearing if things keep up the way they are going.
“Very frustrating,” he said after the non-conference loss. “We’ve played two games in a row (including our second loss to Geneva, 41-38 on Saturday) where we didn’t come out wanting to win; we came out playing like not to lose. We started the season so well, and after the setbacks — the heartbreakers to Geneva, it seems now we have played every game two quarters OK, two quarters badly.
“Early in the season, we were playing four quarters of basketball. And I’m just not getting a whole lot of leadership out of my upperclassmen. And it shows.”
The host Panthers (11-3), who are a very physical and talented team, shut Madison’s offense down in the first and third quarters, holding it to four and two points respectively during those stretches.
The Blue Streaks bounced back both times – first rebounding from a 12-2 disadvantage to grab two leads before going into the locker room trailing 21-20 after a layup by Tamariah Whitner (14 of her 18 points in the second half and 2 blocked shots, all off the bench). Euclid led 32-22 after the third period before a 9-1 Madison run cut it to 33-31 with more than five minutes remaining.
The Blue Streaks had a chance to pull even or ahead, but lost it on a traveling violation. The Panthers then ran off nine-straight points, all by Whitner and Jalin Steel, for a 42-31 lead.
Steel took the ball the length of the floor for a basket to begin that streak, then moments later stole the ball, took it to the Euclid end and followed in her own miss. Then after one of six blocks by Rashida Harris (7 boards), Erin Haislah (4 assists, 6 steals) rebounded and fed Whitner for a layup that became a three-point play. Whitner then stole the ball and laid it in.
“Our defense kind of turns us into our offense,” Euclid coach Lynn Phillips said. “That’s what we said — ‘We’re going to go as many bodies deep as we need, and we’re going to pressure, pressure, pressure.’”
Taylor Bland led the Blue Streaks with 14 points, but that total was more than twice as many scored by any of her teammates. Abbie Trivisonno had eight rebounds for Madison.
Euclid’s Rachelle White had an eight-point, eight-rebound, five-steal night.
“I thought their team came out playing to win,” Smith said. “We were back on our heels and intimidated. I give coach (Phillips) a lot of credit. They came out from start to finish for four quarters, pressured us with heart and aggression, and never gave up. We made a run and they just kept right (on) going.”
Madison turned the ball over six more times (27-21) than the Panthers and managed just 25 percent shooting (13-of-52). Nineteen of the Blue Streaks’ turnovers came via Euclid steals.
“When we play hard and smart, things go well,” Phillips said. “They countered; they really did. They beat us down the floor for a layup. We adjusted things a little bit at halftime, got rid of the diamond (press), and just said, ‘Keep ‘em in front of you. Just play defense straight up with them.’ And they answered.”
“We’re not playing up to our ability right now,” Smith said. “If we can get back to that, we’ll be fine. If not, it’s going to be a war the rest of the way out every game we play.
“We just can’t put together a four-quarter game. I don’t know if it’s the ankles we have that are sore. We’re just back on our heels, not being aggressive — a little timid. (The Panthers) can do that to you though.”
Goldman is a freelance writer from South Euclid.