CERRO GORDO — The first week of the girls’ basketball season, the Cerro Gordo/DeLand-Weldon/Bement team was less prepared than most.
“We were three schools playing together and we weren’t ready,” coach Eric Helms said. “Two weeks to practice isn’t a lot of time when you’ve never played together before.”
The Broncos and their first-year co-op are seeking better fortunes the second time they play teams. If Wednesday is an accurate barometer, they are heading in the right direction.
Helms’ squad avenged a first-week, nine-point loss to Argenta-Oreana, rallying in the second half to beat the Bombers 59-55 in a quarterfinal game of the Macon County Tournament.
CG/D-W/Bement opened the second half with a 14-0 run and then held on in the final quarter by hitting 13 of 19 free throws. Sophomore Stephanie Shook was 8 of 12 from the line in the final 6:05.
Helms wasn’t distressed at halftime when the Kandie Bloch-led Bombers held a five-point lead, thanks to the 6-foot senior’s 20-point first half.
“The third quarter has been our best quarter,” Helms said. “The third quarter, we own it. We’ve been doing that all season.”
In 11 of its last 12 games, CG/D-W/Bement has outscored the opposition in the first eight minutes coming out of the halftime break.
Arionna Gant scored seven of her 11 points in the third quarter and Shook had six of her team-high 22 in a quarter when the Broncos outscored the visitors 17-5.
As enjoyable as the third quarter was, Helms hopes to see that kind of play start sooner.
“I wish we’d get going like that in the first quarter,” he said.
CG/D-W/Bement (8-5) built its lead to nine points (53-44) with less than 21/2 minutes to play before late heroics by Bloch nearly rallied A-O. Bloch scored eight of her game-high 32 points in the final 2:10, starting with a three-pointer that had Helms talking at game’s end.
“Kandie Bloch decided the last two minutes to take the game over,” Helms said. “That jump-shot three-pointer, you don’t see that in girls’ basketball. Individually, she is the best player we’ll see all season.”
Bloch also had 13 rebounds and eight steals. Her offense came despite the Broncos employing a box-and-one on her virtually the entire game.
“She did a good job of bringing us back,” A-O coach Jeff Shumate said. “Tonight, she played one of her better games in a while. We ran out of time.”
Bloch has hit the 30-point mark this season more than any other area player. Wednesday’s performance was her fifth of the season.
Also fueling A-O’s comeback bid were five final-period points apiece from Kim Carron and Katelynn Mullins. Mullins hit a game-high three three-pointers.
Part of his team’s slow start, Helms speculated, was playing its first game in 15 days. A-O was in a holiday tournament and had played four games since the Broncos last took the court.
“The layoff showed,” Helms said. “We were rusty.”
The Broncos’ Gant continued her climb up the school’s career charts. With a game-high 14 rebounds, she needs fewer than 50 to break the all-time record, a mark Helms said “has stood since 1981.”
Shook drained 7 of 10 free throw attempts in the final 3:51. Helms wasn’t surprised.
“She is our best free throw shooter and is very solid,” the coach said. “With her at point guard and Gant in the post, that’s quite a combination.”
Fifth-seeded CG/D-W/Bement returns to the court tonight to play top-seeded Central A&M in the semifinals. A-O’s next game is Friday in the consolation semifinals against Warrensburg-Latham.
“Mullins was one of several players who hit clutch shots,” Shumate said. “We played hard. We’ll keep trying to get better.”