Kenston Bombers girls’ basketball Coach Kevin Hinkle was looking for that one play near the end of the first half that could spark the Bombers last Wednesday at the McGarry Gymnasium in Chardon.
Hinkle got it when senior forward Ramsey Smith forced a turnover with time running out. She then passed to the open senior forward Caroline Neimes, who buried the jumper to push Kenston’s lead to 17-9.
“It was a nice a boost because we talked about how in the first game against Aurora we came out flat in that second half and they got right back into the game,” the 12th-year coach said.
The Bombers’ offense did not exactly come to life in the second half but their defensive effort kept them in front and they defeated Geauga County rival Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin 26-21 for the season’s first victory.
It marked the first victory for Hinkle since returning as Kenston’s head coach after a five-year hiatus.
“We hung our hats on the defensive end,” he said. “We understand we are going to have games where we do not have great shooting but our defense will always keep us in the game and it definitely won us the game on Wednesday.”
The Bombers (1-2, 0-0) played the game short-handed with two rotational players sidelined because of injury, and had to reach to the end of their bench to plug those holes.
“Our bench really kept us going and kept us motivated,” senior guard Brooke Pagon said.
In his first year back, Hinkle inherits a team that lost just two seniors but one of those seniors left behind a giant void.
With standout guard and leading scorer Catara DeJarnette having graduated, the Kenston offense lacking a true floor general.
“It definitely is a big change,” senior guard Emily Kratzert said. “The past few years a lot of our offense relied on Catara a lot so we have to get our flow going in the next games but it will come.”
Hinkle admitted it is practically impossible to automatically replace the scoring of a player of DeJarnette’s caliber, but sees the opportunity for his players to embrace new scoring roles, including the six seniors.
“They know that all six of them can have 10 to 15 points a night,” he said. “All six of them can also have eight rebounds and three assists per night so I am really looking forward to seeing how they are going to take on that role.”
In the first quarter, Kenson found some open driving lanes to the basket but struggled to convert and squandered several scoring opportunities.
“It was definitely a low-scoring game,” the 5-foot-5 Kratzert said. “Everyone was huffing and puffing out there. It was physical and fast-paced so every point counted.”
The past five seasons have seen the Bombers operate a half-court style of play but with Hinkle’s return, he has reintroduced his fast-paced system, which requires his players to run the floor at all times.
“It’s definitely been a big change,” noted Kratzert. “Our practices are a lot harder and we push each other a lot more but I think it is good and is helping us become a better team.”
Kenston looked like a team that was still learning a new system by committing six turnovers in the first quarter and scoring only eight points.
After multiple drives to the hoop that bore no results, the Bombers were sparked by a pair of 3-pointers by Kratzert and sophomore guard Mariela Macias to build an 8-4 lead.
With a new system, the defense is currently ahead of the offense.
“We’ve been a little behind trying to get stuff in and not having everybody healthy,” Hinkle said. “We are still putting bits and pieces in. The next couple of weeks we have a lot of games and will start adding things significantly over the winter break but we are still trying to get the basics down and just go from there.”
Kenston’s defense forced eight turnovers in the first period and kept the pressure on in the second quarter by causing five more Lions’ turnovers and limiting them to only five points, all scored by senior guard Melissa Brownlee.
According to the 5-foot-3 Pagon, the Bombers’ defense was sparking their offense.
“Getting those turnovers left and right was what really helped us get down the floor and get those lay-ups in,” she said.
Kenston’s offense was still struggling, including shooting just 1 for 6 at the foul line but scored four straight points near the end of the first half, extending the lead to 17-9.
The Bombers continued having to scratch and claw for every bucket in the third quarter but their defense kept smothering NDCL and allowed only two points.
The Lions’ only basket of the third quarter came at the 1:41 mark when Brownlee hit a running lay-up.
Kenston’s offense did not fare much better, scoring just four points but extended the lead to 21-11.
NDCL made things interesting the closing minutes by going on a 6-1 run, cutting the Bombers’ advantage to 26-21 but their defense was too much for the Lions to overcome.
Despite scoring a season-low 26 points, Kenston’s defense forced 26 turnovers.
“I can’t accurately describe how happy I am with their defensive effort and how much they hang their hat on the defensive end and how much pride they take in it,” Hinkle said. “We work hard on that and instead of shying away from it they just dug down and I think they are really starting to buy into what we want to do.”
The Bombers officially made it a winning streak when they improved their record to 2-2 when they defeated Nordonia 51-48 in a home victory on Monday night.
Following its first Western Reserve Conference game of the season at Willoughby South on Wednesday, Kenston will stay on the road and play against conference foe Madison at 2 p.m. Saturday.
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