By Mike Pilosof
Photos by Adam Shrimplin
Garden City, KS-Charinee Mitchell's team was back at full strength Wednesday night. But they were facing a Pratt squad that's undergone a serious facelift in just 12 months.
Courtney Cleveland was nearly unstoppable, scoring 23 points and pulling down 10 rebounds, Dymond McElrath chipped in 10, and Pratt continued their incredible one-season turnaround with a 71-67 victory over Garden City at Conestoga Arena.
"We need to be better on defense," Mitchell said. "That's where we struggled again tonight."
While the defense struggled to find its footing, the offense was clicking early. Garden City hit 9 of their first 15 shots from field, including Jaleah Bellany's buzzer-beating 3 to end the first period that had the Broncbusters up 22-17. But the script was flipped in the second. Garden City was held to just six points on 3-of-13 shooting, turning a five-point lead into a two-point deficit at the break. They were held scoreless the final three minutes of the first half.
"We just need to get down and defend," Mitchell said. "A lot of our ticky-tack fouls are because we are not defending properly."
Pratt, who won just three games all of last season, scored the first seven points of the third quarter, and eventually built an 11-point lead following Cleveland's three-point play with 3:11 remaining in the period. But Garden City got right back in it, fueled by an 8-1 run. They were down six going to the fourth.
"We didn't play very well, and still were there," Mitchell said. "But we wouldn't be in that position if we would just guard right."
Garden City again found themselves down 11 in the final quarter with less than a minute to go. But they wouldn't go away. Talia Roberts hit a contested 3, Bellany followed with a triple before Roberts nailed another long ball, making it 69-66 with 13 seconds. But the rally fell short once Jazmin George buried two free throws, ending the Broncbusters' miracle comeback.
Rachel Tippins scored 10 points off the bench for the Beavers, who shot 47 percent (24-of-51) from the field.
Roberts scored 23 points in her second game back from an ankle injury for Garden City, who lost for the fourth time in their last five games. Bellany added 22 with a career-best six triples.
Next up: Garden City at Dodge City-Saturday, Jan. 26-12:45 p.m. pregame; 1 p.m. tip on 99.9 FM; westernkansasnews.com/kwkr and KWKR mobile app