Girls basketball falls in state semifinals

Abby McCoy, Sports editor

Coach Jerrod Handy told the girls basketball team to relax and focus on making shots at halftime in the Class 5A semifinal game Friday. The Eagles did just that.

Maize came back strong in the third quarter, taking a lead against St. Thomas Aquinas after trailing the entire first half. Unfortunately for the Eagles, they couldn’t keep up the pace in the fourth quarter and fell to Aquinas 41-34.

Handy said he was happy with the way the team responded after trailing 25-17 at the half.

“Offensively we just said we are going to shoot it up,” Handy said. “Don’t be afraid. Don’t be hesitant. Just make your shot and shoot it. I think they relaxed and started shooting a little better.”

The Eagles scored 13 points during the third quarter and built a 28-25 lead. They held strong defensive on the Saints, preventing them from scoring in the third quarter until 3:19 was remaining.

“Defensively we tried to make sure we knew who we were guarding and how we needed to guard,” Handy said. “We did a better job defensively in not allowing certain players to drive on us.”

Aquinas, however, scored six consecutive points to lead 31-28. With less than a minute remaining in the quarter, Cassie Onwugbufor’s basket cut the lead to 31-30.

But that was as close as the Eagles got. Maize lost steam in the fourth quarter, scoring four points.

Handy wasn’t surprised by his team’s effort, despite being undersized and lacking the experience of Aquinas. The Eagles, seeded sixth in the tournament, fell to second-seeded Aquinas last year in the championship game.

“We’ve been in the state tournament a lot,” Handy said. “That’s just what we expect. No matter if you are a freshman or a sophomore, you are expected to perform at a high level.”

The Eagles played the season with just one senior, Autumn Hanna.

“I thought ‘dang’ about how hard this was going to be,” she said. “I had to be that person that stands out and tries to control everyone at the same time. I did my part and others followed me.

Handy praised Hanna’s leadership after the game.

“She’s an inspiration to the team, coaches,” he said. “She’s our favorite. She just always has a smile on her face. She’s so coachable, like a lot a girls, but it’s her lead and her example that a lot of the girls follow.”

Hanna led the Eagles with five rebounds Friday. Sophomore Emily Laham scored a team-high 10 points, followed by Alexis Cauthon with nine.

The Eagles have one more game to play Saturday. They’ll play for third place at noon.

And Handy is looking forward to next season with four starters and all the top reserves back.

“We are excited about next year,” he said. “We don’t want to talk about it right now, but we do mention it every once in a while. … That one year of experience is going to help so much.”