For all intents and purposes the prep athletic career of Community R-6 senior Natalie Thomas should be over, at least on the hardwood, and she's walking a dangerous tightrope with her competitive existence right now because the next time she and her squad lose, that's exactly what she'll be facing.
It's not like that's any kind of a surprise to the senior at this point. By now she's probably being reminded of that fact far more often than she'd like. Whatever the effect was it worked because the Lady Trojans, 25-2 overall, weren't just controlling on Tuesday when they went up against Pilot Grove, 20-6 overall. There were times when this team was absolutely dominant.
That included when CR-6 claimed the opening session 15-8, but it got even better when the squad went wild taking the third 29-9. That doesn't mean the heavens and earth moved themselves in order to align just right in the Lady Trojans favor. They had to be made to move, and the player that made the kind of moves that equated to 26 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and four steals was Natalie Thomas, who also helped her team go 20-for-29 from the free throw line to defeat Pilot Grove 64-43.
"As this season has progressed it has become very clear that we have a new rival in Pilot Grove. This would be our third time playing them this season and all three times something special was at stake," said coach Bob Curtis. "The first time was for the New Franklin Tournament title, the second was a homecoming game that would help decide who won the conference title and lastly a sectional win to advance in the state playoffs."
This contest didn't get locked down by CR-6 until the second half and that required an all-out team effort from players such as Dalaney Bowers with 15 points and three rebounds. Alexis Welch also did her share of the hard work by clocking six points and six boards, Sadie Hoyt almost matched that pace with six points and four rebounds and Deann Brooks came in with five points and six rebounds.
"To be able to beat such a great team three times this season is a credit to our players to be able to make adjustments and reinvent our game plan and execute," Curtis said. "The first half of our sectional match-up showed how well the two teams new each other as very few field goals were made and players had to draw contact and get to the free-throw line to get a clear look at the basket. When we came out of halftime it was clear that Natalie and Dalaney were just going to will us to a win."
One oddity to this game was how closely the Lady Tigers free throw numbers reflected those of the Lady Trojans at 21-for-31. Because this game was such a high-energy affair there was also an underlting theme that much of what occurred was actually adrenaline based. One of the few things that wasn't was the fourth quarter and that was because after entering the session with a 20-point advantage that's exactly how Curtis and his staff wanted things to stay.
"We struggled scoring inside with the size of (their post players), so we decide to set some ball screens and let jumpers fly as they had been in a box and one on Natalie all night," said Curtis. "Seven three-pointers later Bowers and Thomas had given us a 21-point lead going in to the fourth quarter. Probably the wildest quarter in a playoff game I've seen in my coaching career as we went 4-for-4 from the line and 9-for-12 from the field in the frame. The statement was made and the Tigers wouldn't recover."
Community R-6 next plays Saturday at 2:45 p.m. in the quarterfinals against Green City, 23-4 overall at Salisbury. In its sectional game Tuesday Green City, 23-4 overall, eliminated Tina-Avalon, 17-5 overall, 61-37.