ANNA — Anna continued its recent tear during a nonconference game on Thursday night. And like many of the wins during the Rockets’ hot streak, it didn’t come easily.
Anna overcame an early deficit and fought off a Lehman Catholic rally to earn a 56-47 victory. It’s the sixth consecutive win for the Rockets (13-6, 7-3 Shelby County Athletic League), who have become experts at winning close games.
Of Anna’s last six wins, four have been by margins of eight points or less, including last Saturday’s 45-40 win over Minster. Minster was the top-ranked Div. IV team in the state at the time.
“As much as you preach every game’s a big game, sometimes it’s hard after you come off an emotional win, and our girls were extremely excited after beating Minster,” Anna coach Jeff Maurer said. “We took Lehman very seriously and knew they had some good guards that were going to give us some trouble, but sometimes it’s hard. But when we made mistakes, we were able to recover, and that was the big thing.”
The ability to win tight games marks a big change for Anna after a 7-6 start. Of the Rockets’ six losses, three came by margins of five points or less.
“Over the last few weeks, we’ve been talking and preaching about having some poise in those big moments late in the game,” Maurer said. “We’ve been telling the girls that we need to play under control and play our style of basketball, and be more patient on the offensive end of the floor. I think we’re really more connected right now on defense. We’re communicating, and that’s helped.”
Lehman pulled within 34-29 after two free throws by Alanna O’Leary with 4:46 left in the third, but Anna pulled away with a 10-5 run. Macey Huelskamp scored two 3-pointers and a made a pair of free throws during the run, and Kiplyn Rowland made a basket in the paint.
After Anna extended its lead to 45-33, the Cavaliers started the fourth on a 5-0 run and later pulled within six points on a 3-pointer by Grace Monnin with 3:15 left. Lehman trailed 51-45 with two minutes left, but Anna went on a 4-0 run to put the game away.
Lehman Catholic coach Craig Hall said he was pleased the team fought back after the Rockets took a 12-point lead.
“They could have laid down, there’s no question about it,” Hall said. “We’re probably not too different than any other school in that we’ve got a couple of kids not feeling 100 percent with the flu going around, with a lot of coughing and hacking. The kids wanted to play hard through that, and they laid it all on the floor.”
It’s the third consecutive loss in what has been an up-and-down season for the Cavaliers (8-10, 4-2 Northwest Central Conference). Prior to the current losing streak, Lehman won three consecutive games.
“We tend to play to our competition, for good or bad,” Hall said. “I asked the girls before tonight’s game to leave it all on the floor, and they did. …I’m proud of the effort the girls gave. I just asked them to make me a promise to give me this effort for the rest of the season. We’ll see how it goes.”
Huelskamp, a senior guard, came up with big baskets other than the Rockets’ 10-5 third-quarter run. She led Anna with 24 points, 14 of which came in the second half. She also was effective on defense, including one play where she tore the ball away from O’Leary.
“She looked like the senior tonight we need her to be,” Maurer said. “Tonight, more than any game all season, she wanted the basketball in her hands. She demanded it, and she went and got it. She rebounded the ball and fought down in the post, and she didn’t shy away from any big shots. We need her to be that going forward into the tournament.”
Breah Kuck scored seven points and Emily Aufderhaar added six for the Rockets.
O’Leary led Lehman with 17 points while Monnin scored 12, 10 of which came in the fourth quarter. Both had four steals each, and Monnin led the team with six rebounds. Maddy McFarland added six points and four rebounds.
The Cavaliers’ defensive pressure slowed Anna’s offense at times and they frequently jumped in front of passes. Lehman finished with 12 steals.
“It was a hard fought game,” Maurer said. “Credit to Lehman. Their girls hustled and they took it to us. They beat us off the dribble more times than I’d like to count.”
Anna dominated rebounding wise and unofficially finished with a 29-16 advantage. The Cavaliers shot 20 of 51 (39 percent) from the field.
“I think what beat us is they beat us on the offensive glass,” Hall said. “We weren’t boxing out enough to get the defensive rebounds, and they were getting a lot of stick-backs. That was the difference in the game. We got our fair share of turnovers and had one of our better nights at the free-throw line, but we gave up too many offensive rebounds.”
The Rockets finished the second quarter on an 8-2 run to take a 28-22 halftime lead. Carly Edwards made a jumper from the left baseline with 1:54 left to bring Lehman within 24-22, but Mackenzie Scullly and Huelskamp hits baskets before the end of the quarter to finish off Anna’s run.
Lehman scored the first four points of the game. O’Leary hit a basket and followed with a free throw with 5:37 left in the first to put Lehman up 9-5, but Anna quickly took the lead. Huelskamp scored a basket and Abby Gaydosh hit a 3 from the top of the key with 4:05 left to put Anna ahead 10-9.
Lehman retook the lead at 16-14 with 1:04 remaining after another three-point play from O’Leary, but Anna tied the score at 18-18 at the end of the first after a long jumper from Gaydosh.
Anna plays at Botkins on Saturday while Lehman hosts Arcanum.
Contact Bryant Billing at (937) 538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter.