DECATUR – It wasn't until well into the fourth quarter that Bellmont finally hit its stride Saturday night, turning a 7-point lead after three quarters into a 43-26 victory over visiting Bluffton.
Bellmont coach Andy Heim said his team was in the unprecedented situation of having to get the entire lineup back in basketball shape after returning from its second two-week quarantine of the year, a challenge that would've seemed bizarre in any other season.
“Before the Eastside game, we had a couple practices and then we just jumped right back into playing, and that was a tough one. In this one, we had three more practices and I thought we looked better,” Heim said, referring to the 45-37 loss at the Blazers' gym on Tuesday. “We're not perfect by any means. We're not playing as well as we were before our quarantine, but this was definitely a step forward for us.”
Bellmont senior guard Faith Morris hit a 3-pointer to open the game, and senior center Morgan Shifferly added another bucket to build an early lead. Bluffton senior Natalie Lehrman hit a 3-pointer to give the Tigers (8-4) a brief 7-5 advantage, their only lead. Shifferly tied it at 7, and sophomore guard Ellen Scott hit a 3-pointer to give Bellmont a 10-7 lead.
Bellmont (8-2) continued its 10-0 run in the second quarter to take a 15-7 lead. Bluffton senior Emme Boots finally made her first basket late in the second quarter. She then grabbed a rebound and put the ball back up for a bucket at the buzzer to cut Bellmont's lead to 19-12.
Both teams made just just three field goals in the third quarter to set up what could have been a tightly contested fourth. Ninety seconds into the final period, a bucket by Boots cut the lead to 27-22. Then Scott hit her second 3 to push the lead to eight.
Bellmont senior Lauren Bleke hit two shots to stretch the Bellmont lead to 10 and then 12 (she went 3 for 3 in the fourth quarter). With 1:53 to play, Morris hit a 3-pointer to give Bellmont a 39-24 lead. After a Bluffton timeout, Morris and Bleke scored to stretch the lead to 19.
Shifferly led all scorers with 16 points. Bleke finished with 10 points, and Morris had eight. Boots, who averages 17.6, was held to 12.
“(Boots) lives on the elbows, on the 10- to 12-foot range, and we wanted to make sure that we were clogging up that middle, we wanted to pressure out on their wings, so they couldn't get easy passes into her, where she likes to work,” Heim said. “And honestly, I think for the last five years we've done a really nice job on the other team's best player, of pressuring her and putting her in a tough situation, and I think we did the same tonight.”