Firestone had most of the necessary ingredients working in its favor in a City Series showdown Monday night.
Balanced scoring? Check. Solid defense? Check. Sure handling of the ball on offense? For the most part, another check.
And thanks to a big 16-1 scoring run in the first quarter, the Falcons never really let visiting Buchtel threaten as Firestone (3-3, 2-0) earned a 69-34 victory.
The Falcons made plenty of lay-ups and free throws, too. And that is something coach Audley McGill has been preaching to his team in recent days.
“We made a few more layups and foul shots this time,” said McGill. “Still got to make layups, still got to make foul shots. It was an ugly game, but we won.”
Yolanda Sims, a 5-foot-9 senior, led the way with a career-high 19 points — 10 in the first quarter when Firestone jumped to a 24-8 lead. Savannah Blackwell, a 5-6 freshman, scored 17. She had 11 in the first half and pleased her coach by making 7-of-8 free throws for the game.
Junior Darian Carter, the lone full-time starter returning from last season, was an all-around presence with 12 points, 13 rebounds and four assists. Senior Ashley Phillips scored seven of her nine points in the second half.
Sims, who had a few starts last year, is one of just three seniors on the team and realizes she needs to take a leadership role.
“Yeah, I feel like I have to put the team on my back and do everything the coaches ask me to do,” said Sims. “And just play my heart out every night. We’ve got a lot to work on but we should be better as the season goes on.”
The Falcons went to the line a lot, making 24-of-37 free throws, as a youthful Buchtel team tried to work its way back into the game with aggressive defense.
Buchtel (2-3, 2-1) trailed 37-20 at the half and 49-27 after three quarters. The Falcons closed on a strong note, outscoring the Griffins 20-7 in the fourth on the strength of a 14-2 run.
“We’ve still got room for improvement,” said McGill. “I thought we could have made another 15 points. It was a physical game. Our girls showed up and they played tough. We’ve been working on our press break and secondary breaks. It’s coming.”
Buchtel coach Brian Neugebauer is in his first year as a head coach after 19 years as an assistant for the Griffins boys team. And he has to lead a squad that includes six sophomores and a freshman, who exhibited growing pains on a number of occasions.
“For the most part the girls are working hard,” said Neugebauer. “We’re young and we’re inexperienced. But I’ve enjoyed it. It’s good.”
Junior Chianne Crisp led the Griffins with eight points and freshman Daichelle Hatcher scored seven. But 25 turnovers and subpar shooting hampered their efforts, particularly at the foul line where Buchtel made just 10-of-27.
“Because we’re young, I’m trying to be patient,” said Neugebauer. “To a certain extent it’s got to be different between boys and girls. Boys you can tear into and they might respond. Girls you have to be patient with. I’m trying to build the program and build the team up.”
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