After suffering two losses in the three days prior to Friday’s game against Calhoun, the Stanhope Elmore girls basketball team was starting to get desperate for its first win of the season. And things did not seem to be getting better for the Mustangs as they trailed for most of the night.
However, Stanhope Elmore never backed down as its defense put the clamps on the visitors in the fourth quarter, allowing just one field goal over the final four minutes of the game, and came out on the good side of a 46-42 score line to grab its first victory of the season.
“Our motto is ‘by any means necessary’ and that’s about coming out with a win,” SEHS coach Kelvin Stokes said. “We started out very flat and I think that was probably because of the stage. They haven’t had that type of crowd ever here for a girls’ game. We had to will our way to a win. Hopefully this type of game will spark us all throughout the season. They needed this one.”
The crowd was already packed in for the night cap which featured one of the nation’s top recruits, JD Davison, in the boys game. But before the final game began, Stanhope Elmore’s girls team got to be in the spotlight.
Neither team led by more than six points in the contest which kept the crowd invested right until the end when Jayden Thomas gave the home fans something to cheer about. She scored 10 of the team’s final 12 points including a late putback off a missed free throw to seal the victory with less than five seconds to go. Thomas finished with 13 points to go with 10 rebounds and two steals.
“She had something going on with her shins, they were a little swollen I think but we had to ride her all the way through the end,” Stokes said. “She had to will us to that victory. And she did. If she gets her legs more under her toward the end of the season, she will be more dominant.”
The Mustangs (1-2) relied heavily on seniors Thomas and Brooke Burkett (14 points) during the second half as the two combined for 20 of the team’s 25 points in the final two quarters. The duo connected on back-to-back plays with less than four minutes to go in the game as Thomas scored off assists from Burkett on consecutive trips down the court to put Stanhope Elmore in the lead for good.
Calhoun (1-2) found most of its success at the free throw line, forcing the issue by driving into the paint and often drawing fouls on the Mustangs. The Tigers finished 17 of 24 at the line and that many foul calls started taking a toll on the pace of the game.
“That stops your rhythm,” Stokes said. “Brooke couldn’t get into a rhythm and Jayden couldn’t get into her rhythm early in the game. We never really got into our sets. Those free throws allow the defense to get back and set up in front of you. We wanted to get out into transition.”
Kelbi Johnson helped keep the Mustangs in the game early on, scoring nine of her 12 points in the first half. She also added eight rebounds and three steals to her final line.
“I was really impressed with Kelbi,” Stokes said. “She didn’t make a lot of shots but she was aggressive and that kept Brooke in the game. Kelbi really had a strong game and her presence just helped Brooke come along.”
The Mustangs were happy to get a win to end the opening week of the season but after losing its first two games to Marbury and Chilton County, they are still hoping to find improvements along the way.
“It’s about conditioning and taking care of the basketball,” Stokes said. “We’ve had too many turnovers and we aren’t attacking the basket. We’re taking too many jump shots. So there is a lot of things we want to do to get back to what we’re good at.”