ANNA — After struggling through the first week of the season, Anna picked up the pressure on defense and is on a roll.
The Rockets had their latest big defensive performance on Saturday in a Shelby County Athletic League game against Jackson Center. Anna beat the Tigers 43-22 to improve to 3-2 overall and 2-1 in the SCAL.
Jackson Center is the third straight opponent Anna has held to 22 points or less. The Rockets held Houston to 22 points in a 33-point win last Saturday and held Bellefontaine to 21 points in a 41-point win on Nov. 30.
“We’ve gotten more focused and have concentrated more on defense,” senior guard Macey Huelskamp said. “You’ve just got to play team defense and you’ve got to be on that helpside. Defense wins you games.”
Anna opened the season with a 40-35 loss to New Bremen and a 48-34 loss to Fort Loramie.
“Our defense has definitely stepped up an improved,” Anna coach Jeff Maurer said. “A big difference in those first couple of games to now, I think, is that as a coaching staff we were still trying to figure out personnel and which girls could give us certain things at certain times in the game. I think the girls are understanding their roles a little bit better. If we can play defense like that, we’re going to be in games.”
The Rockets jumped out to a 12-2 lead in the first quarter. Anna defenders crowded around Jackson Center 6-foot-2 senior forward Olivia Clark and prevented her from getting any shots early. When the Tigers’ guards put up shots, Anna boxed well and dominated the boards.
“When you’re playing a County team, you’ve got to be ready to go from the start,” Jackson Center coach Jeff Reese said. “When you get down early, it makes that battle twice or maybe even three times as hard.
“…They did a great job and had one behind and one in front of (Clark) the entire game, which makes her have to work that much harder. On top of that, we had some very good open shots because they were so focused on her, but we weren’t able to knock them down.”
Kennadie Reese hit a couple of long jumpers in the second quarter to help Jackson Center narrow the gap. Kylie Hartle hit a shot for the Tigers with 2:55 left, which cut Anna’s lead to 18-10.
Jada Rowland hit a basket for Anna before the end of the second quarter to push the lead to 10, then Anna pulled away fast in the third quarter.
Freshman point guard Ella Doseck hit a long jumper, then Huelskamp scored on a baseline drive to push Anna’s lead to 33-16 by the 5:00 mark in the third.
Huelskamp scored a game-high 19 points, eight of which came in the first quarter. She also had 10 rebounds.
“You’ve just got to keep attacking the basket and let them fall,” Huelskamp said.
Huelskamp averaged 10.7 points per game last season but didn’t score much in Anna’s first two games.
Maurer said Huelskamp has done a better job in recent games of looking for shots. He said she was playing hard through the first two games but wasn’t looking for shot opportunities.
“We kind of told her after those first two games that she’s a girl that should score in this league and ought to be stepping up for us,” Maurer said. “She had a great season last year, and we know she could give us a lot. She stepped up and accepted the challenge. …I think she’s started to realize we need her to look for her shots within the flow of the offense.”
Anna has also been aided by the emergence of Doseck in the last few weeks. Doseck, who was Anna’s second leading scorer with six points on Saturday, has helped the team keep up a fast tempo according to Maurer.
“She’s growing quickly,” Maurer said. “She started the season playing all JV ball, and during the Loramie game we decided to give her a couple of quarters. She’s definitely given us something at the point guard position.”
Kennadie Reese led Jackson Center (1-3, 0-2) with seven points, while Clark finished with six.
Jeff Resse said he was pleased with how Jackson Center played in spurts on defense, including during the last four minutes of the second quarter when Anna scored two points. Now, he said the challenge is for the team to defend like that through an entire game.
“In this league, you can’t play hard for just two or three minutes,” Reese said. “You’ve got to be able to play hard the entire time and you’ve got to be able to rebound hard and make good decisions. We did have some spurts, and maybe that’s a sign of some of our immaturity, but we’ve got to be able to string those spurts together to be more consistent.”
Anna plays next on Thursday against West Liberty-Salem, while Jackson Center returns to action at home on Saturday against Riverside.
Contact Bryant Billing at (937) 538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter.