By Matthew Yoder
The girls of Nandua and Arcadia are learning the fundamentals of basketball in real-time action, and the games they’ve played against one another will likely make the two young teams stronger in their progression. As the 2019-20 campaign winds down, the Warriors capped a season sweep against the Firebirds on the hardcourt Tuesday night with a 27-25 victory.
Buckets were at a premium in the first quarter, with each team making only one. Lenajah Riley hit an early jumpshot for the Firebirds and Tynaija Kelley scored the lone bucket for the Warriors off a good look from Sara Taylor. In what was established early as a physical game, Kelley owned the low post, boxing out tremendously well on the offensive and defensive ends of the ball. Defense was the name of the game in the first half.
Kelley made an emphatic block on Arcadia’s Kyla Wharton and doubled her point total on the other end from another Taylor pass. The ball rattled around the rim finally dropping.
Kelley’s commanding presence in the low post led to a barrage of 3-point attempts from Arcadia. Shots rimmed out, fell short, and Arcadia coach Casey Cordrey implored his team to take a different approach.
“Let’s get to the basket, we’re 0-6 from three, take it hard every time,” Cordrey said.
The half ended with another free-throw line jumper from Kelley, and a put-back from teammate Khe’mani Sample, giving the Warriors an 8-5 lead.
A three-minute flurry of offense by both teams out of the break matched the entire output of the first half. Kelley blocked Julia Rehbein, and the ensuing offensive possession by the Warriors resulted in a smooth 3 from Sample. Kelley and Sample’s play on both ends was impressive in the quarter. They stifled Bella Williams on a drive in the paint, rebounded at will, and Kelley hit another trademark jumper from the charity stripe.
Arcadia would respond, with Williams knocking down a 3, then feeding Riley for a baseline jumper.
Kelley’s great positioning led to another offensive board, kicking out to Sample for a 3, giving Nandua a 16-10 lead. The action remained fluid with Williams hitting another 3, and Taylor making a couple of buckets for the Warriors, one on a great outlet pass from Keyaughtey Clayton.
Nandua ended the quarter up 20-16, setting the stage for another wild finish between the teams in Oak Hall.
The fourth opened with Williams getting fouled on a 3-point attempt. She converted two of her free throws and on the next possession Williams found Wharton for an open 3, giving Arcadia the lead. Williams stretched the lead to 4 with another triple and the Firebird crowd roared in support.
Taylor slowed the charge for Nandua, with a layup from Brianna Tazewell’s inbound pass, then Sample spotted Mackenzie Vestal with a well-directed pass. Vestal was fouled and converted both free throws to tie the game midway through the fourth.
Arcadia continued to shoot 3’s, but went cold.
Vestal made another pair of clutch free throws giving the Warriors the lead, and from there both defenses clamped down. Kelley blocked Rehbein with under a minute to go, and a steal from Taylor led to her getting fouled on the coast-to-coast drive. Taylor made one, giving the Warriors a 2-point advantage.
Arcadia had several chances to extend the game, but made a series of ball-handling miscues in attempting to draw closer.
At the close of the game, Cordrey was competing with a tired lineup, and Nandua coach Lynn Williams was working with three freshman and a sophomore in his lineup to secure the win. It was a testament to the patient process both coaches have faced all-season instructing their teams how to tie together all aspects of the game.
Both teams failed to make shots throughout. For the Firebirds it was largely 3’s, while Williams lamented, “If we could just make layups,” for his Warrior squad.
Williams attributed the tight nature of the game to the level of defense both teams exhibited, and was congratulatory to the effort of both his own team and the opposing side.
“We both play defense, I’ve gotta hand it to Arcadia, they played really hard,” said Williams.
As Cordrey’s emotional season draws to a close, he summed up what he likely thought would be a consistent theme for his team.
“They’re young, inexperienced and haven’t been in many close games, they’ve gotta learn situational basketball,” said Cordrey.
Kelley and Sample paced Nandua with 8 points apiece, and Taylor poured in 7, all in the second half. Arcadia’s Williams was the game’s high-scorer with 16.
From a sideline perspective, both young teams have displayed vast improvements, and coaches and players alike should be commended for their persistence. Arcadia’s season will conclude this week, and for Nandua, the possibility of playoff basketball is still in play.