Palco girls in slump after hot start; Roosters fall to Cheylin
By KLINT SPILLER
PALCO -- Palco senior guard Kali Newell said her basketball team seems completely different than what it was at the beginning of the season.
The Roosters started the season 4-0 and won six of their first seven games, but since Jan. 11, they have dropped four of their past five, including a 59-58 loss at the hands of Bird City-Cheylin (5-8) on Friday.
It's been a rough stretch for a squad hoping for its first winning season in five years.
"At the beginning, we were the underdogs," Newell said. "Then we came out in the first four games and realized, 'OK, we can do it.' Now that we are starting to lose again, we keep telling ourselves we have to build ourselves back up."
On Friday, Palco (7-5) just got off to a rough start.
Cheylin started the game hot, making eight of its first nine shots, and then in the second quarter, the wheels just came off the bus for Palco as the Roosters committed 13 turnovers.
Palco battled back in the second half, but the Roosters struggled in crunch time. Three Rooster turnovers in the final 80 seconds helped Cheylin come away with the win.
"We just start to get ourselves worked up," Newell said. "We start rushing it. We all go really fast. We just make turnover after turnover."
However, Palco was fortunate to even be in the game at the end.
Cheylin had opportunities to make the game a blowout, but the Cougars didn't take advantage at the free throw line, missing two-thirds of their 33 attempts. In the fourth quarter alone, Cheylin made five of its 18 free throws.
"We didn't shoot the free throws very well," said Cheylin head coach Max Keltz. "I'm kind of scared to see what we did shoot. ... We are usually better than that. Maybe we need to work on them a little more."
With the exception of the first quarter, Cheylin also struggled offensively, making just 15 of 42 from the second quarter on, but the Cougars made up for it with their defense and non-stop hustle.
"We have a lot of heart on defense," said Cheylin senior Stephanie Busse. "Our offense is coming along. We are a young team. We don't have very much experience, but our defense is really working hard and is what wins games for us."
Cheylin out rebounded Palco 45 to 38 and forced 26 turnovers.
Busse led the way for Cheylin with 18 points and 13 rebounds. Freshman Elizabeth Keltz grabbed 11 rebounds, and sophomore Kalin Ritchey had eight.
Freshman Danea Magnani added 15 points for the Cougars.
Palco had had three players score in double figures.
Rooster junior guard Kiley Marcotte scored a team-high 19 points on 6-of-13 shooting. Junior forward Fallyn Handley posted a double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds, and Newell added 11 points.
It was a significant win for Cheylin. Like Palco, the Cougars also have struggled recently, dropping five of their past six games.
"We have had a lot of close games this year -- a lot of games we should have won, so it was good to win this one," Busse said.
Palco first-year girls' basketball coach Justin Pierce said his squad has played well, but the competition has been stiff.
Until Cheylin, all of Palco's losses have been to ranked squads.
Pierce said getting out of the Roosters' recent rut boils down to "hard work and keep doing what we are doing."
Pierce wasn't even disappointed in his team after Friday's loss.
"I told them after the game that I was completely proud of them," Pierce said. "To get down like that and actually come back and win the second half like we did, I'm really proud of them. It was pure effort and want to. I felt like we wanted it more than they did. We just didn't get off to a good start."