In a do-or-die playoff game, faced with a most difficult setback, the Aberdeen Bobcats did not wilt and crumble.
After leading scorer and go-to standout Maddie Gore went down with an injury in the first half, Aberdeen responded with a big run en route to a comfortable 54-34 victory over Shelton in the 2A District 4 playoffs on Monday in Aberdeen.
Leading by five points early in the second quarter, Aberdeen (6-7 overall) suffered a crowd-deafening blow as Gore suffered a high-ankle sprain after landing awkwardly while attacking the basket.
Gore — who had an excellent game with 23 points in a 55-28 victory over Shelton on Friday — had to be helped off the court and was in the locker room for the remainder of the first half.
But the Bobcats were unfazed with the loss of their leading scorer, embarking on a 9-2 run over the next 3:30 to take control of the game. Much of the damage during Aberdeen’s run was done by two players — forward Abby Martinez and guard Jaylyn Phimmason. They combined to score eight of Aberdeen’s next nine points, with Phimmason scoring on a bank shot to put Aberdeen up 20-12, followed by consecutive buckets from Martinez, the latter on a jumper to put the Bobcats up 24-12 with 3:03 left before halftime.
“We talked a lot that we can’t put it all on Maddie’s shoulders. That we need to be a well-rounded basketball team,” Aberdeen head coach Rachel Wenzel said. “I was happy that when Maddie got hurt, they knew they had to step up to fill her role.”
Wenzel said though her team wasn’t playing its best at the time, she was proud of how they responded.
“After Maddi got injured, they knew their backs were up against the ropes if they didn’t start playing better, and I think they did,” she said. “I was really proud how they were mentally able to bounce back from that.”
But the Bobcats weren’t able to put the game into cruise control as Shelton rallied to score the final five points of the quarter — three on a buzzer-beater from the top of the key by Mei Ping Vernon — to trim the Bobcats lead to 24-17 at the break.
The second half belonged to the Bobcats. Aberdeen opened the third quarter with a 6-0 run on a pair of free throws from Kallie Knutson, a fast-break layup from Zoe Troeh, and an offensive rebound and putback from Zoe Filan to push the lead back over double digits at 30-19.
The Bobcats refused to relinquish the double-digit lead for the remainder of the game.
Bolstered by a full-court press that befuddled the turnover-prone Highclimbers, Aberdeen took a 40-24 lead on a Martinez conversion of a pinpoint bounce pass from Aberdeen guard Kaely Chum with 6:38 to go in the fourth.
Later in the period, Aberdeen stretched the lead to over 20 when Troeh grabbed an offensive rebound and scored to stake the Bobcats to a 50-29 lead with 3:15 left.
Marina Marll followed with a nail-in-the-coffin jumper off a diving assist from Chum to put the Bobcats up 52-29 with 2:25 remaining.
“I thought Shelton did a good job preparing for the two different presses we run and I think we came in a little cocky because of Friday’s game,” Wenzel said. “At halftime, I put all my younger players in to hopefully provide a spark and get my older players going. And they did an amazing job. They played man-to-man and if they were off-ball, (I told them to) trap anything and we’ll take some risks and — for just putting that defense in — I thought they did a great job.”
Martinez led all scorers with 12 points as 11 of 12 Aberdeen players that dressed for the game scored at least two points.
Phimmason scored six points, with Chantheada No and Marll adding five apiece for the Bobcats.
Gore scored eight points, six of those in the first half before coming out of the game with the injury. Aberdeen got a bit of good news when Gore returned to the bench in the second half and was periodically keeping loose on the sidelines in an attempt to keep the ankle from swelling. She returned to the game briefly with 6:32 left and hit two free throws before being taken out for the remainder of the contest.
“She says it felt better,” Wenzel said of Gore’s injury. “We’ll have to kind of take it how it goes at game time (Tuesday against Tumwater). … She’s a tough kid, but I don’t want to injure her further. There’s no reason (when you are up by 15 points).”
The victory represents the first playoff victory for Wenzel in her short tenure as head coach and a turnaround for a program that went 1-20 overall in 2018-19 and had just one league win last season.
“My seniors really understand it,” she said. “They put the time in the summer and they knew they always had the components. But you don’t just become a good team from a bad team. We are in that middle ground where we are progressing.
“We have spurts of greatness and spurts of ‘What is going on out there?’ But I’m just proud that when things like when Maddie Gore gets hurt, they don’t think it’s over. I think in the previous seasons they would have just collapsed. Now, they are like ‘We got it. We can take care of this.’”