MORAVIA — Twin Cedars made the plays last season. Moravia did not.
Three times in four meetings last year, that was the script that played out over 32 hard-fought minutes each time the Sabers and Mohawks met on the hardwood. The Sabers won the final three meetings of the 2012-13 portion of the rivalry meetings with the Mohawks, earning conference titles and postseason wins in the process.
That was last year. This is the 2013-14 girls basketball season, and for at least one night, Moravia flipped the script on their Bluegrass rivals from Bussey.
Mohawk junior Hannah Eastlick scored 18 points and pulled in 10 rebounds for a hard-earned double-double against a physical Saber squad. Sophomore Autumn McDanel shook off a tough night handling the ball to come up with seven steals including a late theft that led to a break-away basket during an 8-1 run that sealed a "sweet" 48-40 win for Moravia on Tuesday.
“We’ve lost to them for the last three years, so it really uplifts your heart to win a game like this,” Eastlick said. “We lost to them three times last year, including the game that could have helped get us to state. For the returning players, we talked a lot about what this game meant to us with the incoming players about what this game meant to all of us.”
Moravia head coach Clint Woodard seconded that emotion.
“One of the main things I told the girls, especially our returning players, is to remember those heartbreaking loss to Twin Cedars last season,” Woodard said. “This was big. This was a hard-fought game for both sides.”
On the other side of the scorers’ table from Woodard was one of the newcomers to the Twin Cedars-Moravia rivalry. Mike Strasko made his head coaching debut in the battle on the basketball floor between the Saber and Mohawk girls basketball squads.
“Welcome to the rivalry, I guess,” Strasko said after the loss.
Strasko watched his team struggle to score from the floor early on, missing 12-straight shots in the first half after back-to-back field goals by Megan Anderson opened the game for Twin Cedars. Brittney Roby almost single-handedly kept the Sabers in the game at the foul line in the opening 16 minutes, hitting eight of her 16 free throws to keep Twin Cedars even at 10-10 heading to the second quarter before two more field goals by Anderson trimmed a 20-11 Moravia down to just one by halftime.
“I don’t know where we’d be without her,” Strasko said of Roby, who led all scorers with 22 points. “She’s a great leader and a dream come true to have on my team. She’s really helped out a lot of our young girls this season.”
For the most part, however, the Sabers struggled offensively. Besides hitting just 23 percent from the field, Twin Cedars also committed 32 turnovers.
“It’s been unusual this season. Sometimes it looks like we haven’t played a lot of basketball together. It’s almost like ‘wow, what did we learn in practice?'” Strasko said. “Then, on other nights, we can look like an all-star team.”
Moravia will certainly take its share of the blame for Twin Cedars’ tough night offensively. The Mohawks not only had 14 steals, two less than the Sabers’ total of 16, but also had five blocked shots protecting the rim.
“We love to press and get after it hard,” Eastlick said “We want to show that Moravia has a tough defense to match up with.”
McDanel seemed to have overcome her turnover problems at the point for Moravia. Despite being forced into 15 turnovers herself, McDanel disrupted several Saber passes and helped Moravia edge out to a 30-26 lead heading into the final quarter, collecting the first of her uncontested layups off a steal at the point to break a 25-25 tie late in the third.
Baskets by Allie Utterback and Elizabeth Rowley, however, brought Twin Cedars back even at 30-30 with just over five minutes left in the contest. After countering with a 6-0 run to reopen the lead, Roby scored on back-to-back field goals to cut the lead back to 36-35.
After getting a stop off a missed shot, the Sabers had the ball for a brief moment off a rebound of a missed shot. The Mohawks, however, instantly got a steal and drew a foul to spark what would be a game-clinching 8-1 run.
“I told the girls the whole game that, eventually, Twin Cedars was going to have a run we were going to have to weather,” Woodard said. “My halftime speech to the girls was to go hard and go fast at the basketball. The girls came out and did exactly what we asked of them.”
The loss drops Twin Cedars to 6-8 overall on the season with a 5-4 mark in the Bluegrass Conference. The Sabers will look to start down a path of consistency when they return to the floor at home Friday against Mormon Trail.
“I may just need to simplify things for the rest of our players,” Strasko said. “Try not to put so much responsibility on each girl.”
Moravia, meanwhile, will take a winning record on the floor for the first time this season on Friday night at Murray. The Mohawks are 7-6 overall and 6-3 in the Bluegrass after starting the season at 1-5.
“We’ve won six of our last seven. We’re definitely going in the right direction,” Woodard said. “To lose a player like Kendall Brown at the start of the season to an ACL injury and have Toni Clark battling illness throughout the season, to be at this point and on this kind of run is a great thing to see from such a young team.”
“It just shows teams, like Murray on Friday, that we can raise back up even when it looks like we’re down,” Eastlick added.
Moravia evened their record on Monday night with a 50-32 makeup win over Moulton-Udell. The Mohawks jumped out to a 16-7 lead against the Eagles, then held M-U to just two third-quarter points to open the lead to double figures.
"We played fairly well in this game," M-U head girls basketball coach Jason Ogden said. "I felt like we were very focused and executed our game plan very well. We did have a tough third quarter that extended the lead out, but the kids battled back and played very hard."
M-U (4-9, 2-6) will be off until a home game with Iowa Christian Academy on Friday night.
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Moravia 50, Moulton-Udell 32
M-U 7 12 2 11 — 32
Mor. 16 9 9 16 — 50
Moulton-Udell (32) — Ashlyn Martin 9, Katie Selvy 7, Madison Newland 4, Addison Westercamp 4, Rachel DeCook 3, Riley Duke 2, Hannah Fowler 2, Shayla Martsching 1. Totals 12-40 4-14 32.
3-point goals — 4-9 (Martin 2-4). Rebounds — 37 (Newland 9). Assists — 10 (DeCook 2, Martin 2, Newland 2). Steals — 12 (Newland 3). Blocks — 1 (Martsching). Total fouls — 10.