GRINNELL Fighting an uphill battle for the entire game, the South Tama girls basketball team found itself on top briefly before the victory slipped through its fingertips Tuesday night.
South Tama trailed for more than 28 minutes at the hands of one of its rival to begin its season opener. STC only led for 31 seconds of the 32-minute contest and that was during the middle of the fourth quarter. However, Grinnell (2-0) finished the game with an 11-6 run and beat the Trojans (0-1) 60-56.
"It was a tough loss, but we can't hang our heads," senior Kaleigh Sieck said. "We just have to move on to the next one."
First-year head coach Marsha Keahna was proud of her team's effort, but said it has areas to improve upon heading into the rest of the season.
"I can't ask anything more from them hustle wise," Keahna said. "They wore everything out there on their sleeve and they never gave up. That's been one of our mottos or sayings. Good things happened when we gave the full effort. A couple times we didn't and let them have things they shouldn't have gotten so easily.
"For our first game, I couldn't be happier with the way we executed," she added. "There are always things to work on, like rebounding, passing, getting back on defense and moving our feet on defense. All of that will come and we'll be alright."
The Trojans trailed by 13 at one point during Tuesday's season opener. They rallied back from that second-quarter deficit and kept the game within 10 or fewer points during the final 18:24 of the contest.
STC ended the third quarter and began the fourth quarter with a 9-2 run, sparked by four different players scoring. Junior Trisha Walz scored a layup to end the third quarter. In the fourth quarter, Sieck sank a pair of free throws to close the Grinnell lead to two points.
Following a Grinnell basket and an STC timeout, senior Jade Rohach scored a basket and senior Megan Wanatee drained a three-pointer. Wanatee's basket came seconds after she missed a similar shot and it also gave STC a 50-49 advantage over the Tigers with 3:59 left in the game.
Grinnell answered with layup, which came after an offensive rebound. On the next possession, the Tigers scored again and then stole an STC pass and finished it with another layup. In the matter of 1:17, Grinnell led 55-50.
South Tama converted four free throws and Grinnell made one as the Tigers lead was cut to two points with 0:52 remaining. The Tigers were able to grab an offensive rebound after a missed foul shot and convert two late STC turnovers into points during the final minute.
"It was nice to come back and take a lead," Keahna said. "We have to stay poised and not get mad at ourselves or down if something goes wrong. They need to not take it so personally and just play the game. We'll get there."
Early in the game, Grinnell built a quick 6-0 lead. The Tigers also took advantage of the South Tama 2-3 zone defense by making three-pointers. They sank four in the first quarter and three more in the second quarter. Sieck hit two of her own in the first quarter for South Tama.
Grinnell also gave STC fits throughout the game, especially early with its full-court press and half-court trapping defense. One reason for this was it always had fresh players with energy.
"They have more depth than we have," Keahna said of the Tigers. "They were running five new girls in every five minutes and we don't have that kind of depth yet. I think we will but not yet."
Grinnell led 15-8 after the first quarter of action. The Trojans cut the lead to four points early in the second quarter, but Grinnell went on a 13-4 run as it built a 13-point advantage in the middle of the quarter. Then STC finished the half with a 9-3 spurt, sparked by five points from Rohach.
"We were all nervous at the beginning," Sieck said. "We just have to realize it's another game."
STC cut the lead in the second half, but Grinnell once again responded. An 8-0 run, which included two baskets from sophomore Erin Clayton, by the Trojans forced Grinnell to call a timeout as its lead fell to two points. Following the timeout, the Tigers sank back-to-back three-pointers.
"They couldn't miss threes, even with a hand in their face," Keahna said. "I told the girls that luck was on their side tonight. They can't make every shot with a hand in their face. We're going to wait for them to come to our house late in the season."
Sieck led the Trojans on Tuesday with 17 points, while Rohach and Wanatee also contributed double-digit points with 14 and 10, respectively.
South Tama will play its home opener this Friday. The Trojans will host Grundy Center at 6:15 p.m.
"Friday will be a good game," Sieck said. "We just have to get after it and bounce back from tonight."