After nearly two weeks without any basketball, the Lady Gators from Gatewood had daunting back-to-back tests for the start of the 2020 portion of their season.
On Thursday, Jan. 2, the Lady Gators welcomed GISA Class AAA rival John Milledge Academy to “The Swamp,” then hosted GISA Class AA opponent Piedmont Academy on Friday, Jan. 3.
The weekend was a mix of wins and losses in multiple ways, as the Lady Gators lost to JMA in a tight contest, got a comeback win over the Lady Cougars, and suffered the loss of a key player due to injury.
The Thursday night matchup was a tough one for the Lady Gators, as they jumped out to an early first quarter lead, but saw that same lead shrink just before halftime. A blend of a full-court press and half-court traps from the Lady Trojans gave Gatewood trouble and caused some costly turnovers, which led to the 20-19 score at the half.
Coming out of the halftime break, the Lady Gators executed their press break much more effectively, creating some uncontested layups on the offensive end of the court. The relatively easy baskets were a welcome sight to both Gatewood players and fans, as scoring was not easy to come by on Thursday night, with only four girls registering points for the Lady Gators.
Despite the scoring surge in the third quarter, Gatewood still found itself facing a 27-25 deficit entering the fourth quarter. The players fought the entire game but, ultimately, their poor night of shooting outweighed their effort and desire, and JMA escaped with a 35-32 victory. That marked the Lady Gators’ first loss of the new year.
Junior Sydnee Bell Eubanks led Gatewood with 13 points, and was closely followed by senior Claire Morris with 9 and junior Olivia Bassett with 7.
While any loss to JMA stings for Gatewood, the one last Thursday might hurt a bit more. Late in the fourth quarter, senior Abbey Kay Moore went down with a knee injury and did not return. Moore might not always fill up the stat sheet with points, but she makes up for it by contributing in every other aspect of the game and can definitely be considered a leader for the Lady Gators.
The night after playing JMA, Gatewood hosted Piedmont Academy, a tough opponent from Region 1 of Class AA, and had to do so without Moore. Head coach Jordan Camp said it was mostly precautionary with region games set to come up soon, but some of the players were a bit nervous to take the floor without one of their leaders.
“Abbey Kay has started as both a guard and a post, so you can tell she is extremely versatile and an important player,” Camp said. “With her out, some of the girls were a bit rattled, but I thought that people really stepped up from both the guard and post positions. They stepped up to the plate, did what they were good at, focused on what we needed from them, and did their job so that we were able to get a big win.”
The Lady Gators’ win over Piedmont was shaky at first, with both teams struggling to find the basket, and numerous jump balls and turnovers. It seemed the shooting struggles had carried over from the night before also, but Gatewood finally hit a few shots to take an 8-3 lead into the second quarter. However, some ill-advised passing in the second quarter opened the door for Piedmont, and suddenly the Lady Gators found themselves facing a 15-11 halftime deficit.
Just like during the JMA game, Gatewood again came out strong in the third quarter. Stingy defense helped the Lady Gators hold Piedmont scoreless throughout the whole quarter, while Gatewood scored 9 points and take a 20-15 lead into the final quarter.
The Lady Gators fended off an attempted comeback from the Cougars in a long fourth quarter and get their first win of the new year with a 30-22 victory. Backing up her strong performance from the night before, Morris led the team with 9 points, followed by senior McKay Hyatt with 7, then three other players scored 4 points each.
“I am really proud of how our girls came back after the Christmas break,” Camp said. “They had two close, in-town opponents that were both really good basketball teams, especially John Milledge, and we fought with them the entire game. The girls never quit and never gave up, but just could not quite pull out the win. With Piedmont, it is always a very physical game, so I was very proud of how the girls executed and fought hard as a team. They never lost their cool and found what was necessary to get the win.”
After such tough games against two quality opponents in back-to-back nights, the players were pleased with their effort as well, especially getting a big win without Moore.
“Both games were super tough and physical and obviously against big rivals for us, too,” Morris said. “We lost a close game to John Milledge but I think it was the best game we have played all season. Then, we came out and did not really play our best against Piedmont, but were still able to get the win, which says a lot about this team.”
Eubanks explained how the Lady Gators overcame the loss of Moore.
“Against Piedmont, we really needed to focus on rebounding with Abbey Kay out, and try to be a bit more physical too, and I thought we did a good job,” Eubanks said. “We were missing a key starter, so it really came down to playing as a team and picking up the slack, which we did.”
The Lady Gators (6-4) hosted Monsignor Donovan (0-2) for their first region game of the season on Tuesday, then hit the road for a region game against Brentwood (8-4) on Friday, Jan. 10, before finishing off the week with another tough home game against Trinity Christian of Dublin (9-1) on Saturday, Jan. 11.