Whatever head coach Ron Rhodes said in the locker room at halftime during Monday’s home game against North County must have worked. The Tigers outscored the Raiders 34-16 in the final 16 minutes en route to a 49-35 victory. The win moves the Tigers’ record to 12-9 on the season.
The first half of Monday’s game wasn’t pretty. North County had good ball movement offensively, and the Tigers had a hard time finding ways to score. Nevertheless, when the buzzer sounded for halftime, Festus was down only 19-15. But something needed to change, and the Tigers found the answer on the defensive side of the ball.
“I thought we played a tremendous second half defensively,” said Rhodes. “We tightened up a lot.” That may have been a bit of an understatement as the Tigers held North County to only four points in the third quarter. Meanwhile, the energy created on defense translated to a lot of transition points on offense. Led by eight points from Maddie Welsh (11), the Tigers put up 17 points in the third quarter and took a 35-23 lead into the fourth.
“I keep being amazed at the energy that these girls keep playing with even though we’re going with a six-player rotation right now,” noted Rhodes. Abby Rickermann (10) came back with eight points in the fourth quarter to maintain the Tigers’ lead as they went on to the 14 point victory.
Festus still didn’t shoot that well, converting on only 33 percent of its shots from the field. What made the difference was 19 points coming from the free throw line, and strong rebounding. The Tigers shot 68 percent from the line, with strong nights coming from Welsh (8-for-9) and Rickermann (7-for-8). Meanwhile, Welsh was a beast on the offensive glass, ripping down six of her team-high seven rebounds off Festus missed shots.
“I thought Rickermann and Welsh had tremendous ball games, and the key was we hit free throws down the stretch and cut down on some of our turnovers,” commented Rhodes.
Rickermann ended the night with 20 points, while Welsh contributed 12 points, and Jenna Oetting (11) netted eleven. Oetting also had six rebounds and five assists, while Rickermann added five steals. Jess Hebenstreit (9) had four steals to go along with her four points. Allison Kuykendall (11) rounded out the scoring with two points.
This game could prove important when it comes to district tournament seedings. “I think this pretty much assures us of a one or two seed in districts,” said Rhodes. “It also assures us of a .500 season regardless of what happens the rest of the way.” And that was a difficult prospect to see when the team started the season 0-6.
The Tigers have two more games remaining in the regular season. Thursday is a road game at Ste. Genevieve, and then Festus closes out the regular season next Tuesday at Farmington. Both games begin at 7:30 p.m.