PITSBURG — On a night where neither team shot well, National Trail suffered the most.
The Miami East defense held National Trail to a mere three field goals Thursday, Feb. 16, negating the Vikings’ own struggles on offense — which ended up dissipating a bit in the fourth quarter as the 10th-seeded Vikings nearly matched their total for the previous three quarters combined and pulled away for a 35-14 victory over No. 9 National Trail in the opening round of the Division III sectional tournament at Franklin Monroe High School.
“Like I told our kids I don’t know if we could have played a whole lot better defensively,” National Trail coach Troy Ferguson said after the loss. “Obviously, if you score 14, 16-points whatever it was, things aren’t going your way on offense. I thought we had a couple of good looks.”
Miami East, which improved to 12-11 with the win, beat the Blazers 52-24 in the penultimate game of the regular season, making Thursday’s result look less like a minor upset than the seeds suggest. But the Vikings also had to work for it, as National Trail (10-13) held the Vikings to only five first-half field goals and kept the game low-scoring on both sides.
“We had a week to get ready,” Ferguson said of the rematch. “We just couldn’t get anything to go offensively. The first time we shot 17 percent. I don’t know if it was any better than that tonight. I can’t imagine it was.”
In the end, Miami East simply struggled less.
The teams shot a combined 5 for 23 from the field in the first quarter, with the score tied 6-6 after the first eight minutes. Things didn’t improved in the next quarter, either, as the Vikings and Blazers were a combined 7 for 40 at the half — but both of those two second-quarter field goals came from Miami East as its defense shut Trail out in the quarter, putting the Vikings up 11-6 at halftime.
A jumper by Gabrielle Hawkins and a putback by Haley Howard pushed the Vikings’ lead to 15-7, but a 3 by Trail’s Evan Byrd got the Blazers back to within five.
That 3 proved to be the only field goal East would allow the rest of the way, though, as Trail shot 1-of-27 over the final three quarters. A 3-pointer by Bailey Miller and free throw by Amber Kinnison put the Vikings up 19-10 heading into the fourth quarter.
Miller added a fast-break layup and a 3 in transition in the fourth and Kinnison had a pair of transition buckets as Miami East began to pull away, beginning the quarter on a 12-1 run and building a 20-point lead at 31-11. The Vikings outscored to the Blazers 16-4 in the fourth and 24-8 overall in the second half to close out the game.
Miller scored eight of her game-high 10 points in the second half, Howard — who led the Vikings against the Blazers in the first meeting with 16 points — added seven points 13 rebounds and three assists, Kinnison scored all six of her points in the second half and added six rebounds and Gabrielle Hawkins chipped in six points. Emily Hawkins had three points, Kaitlyn Mack had two and Sage Hunley had one.
Evan Byrd had five points to lead National Trail, Makena Laird had four points and seven rebounds, Jalynn Byrd had three points and Savanna Abner had two.
Ferguson said it was not the ideal way to end the season.
“Losing four or five games in a row is not the way you want to end the year,” he said. “But the good thing is we got young kids, good experience for the future. They’re good young kids and they’re going to work hard. They are going to keep getting better.”
Payten Laird was the lone senior on the roster.
“She’s given the program a lot of time and hard work over those four years. We’ll miss her. She’s a good kid. Smart kid and we wish her the best,” Ferguson said of the four-year starter.