CRESTLINE — A roar went up from the Galion Tigers’ locker room following their 45-29 victory against Crestline in the 2021-2022 season opener for both programs.
Head coach Shani Rush had a big smile on her face when she emerged from that boisterous locker room a few minutes later.
“We just were happy to win that first game,” Rush said. “We play each other every day and it was good to finally get in a game. We were all excited to come and play tonight. I think they learned to trust each other. They were sharing the ball nicely. Sometimes in the past we haven’t trusted each other, but I think tonight we were sharing the ball and trusting each other that the other person was going to make a play.”
Despite playing with a nagging injury to her right shoulder, forward Natalee Perkins tipped off her senior season with an outstanding performance. She recorded a game-high 22 points, 11 rebounds, and three blocked shots. Perkins knocked down a game-best four 3-point field goals and was 4-for-4 at the free throw line.
“Her shoulder is sore still, but this is her senior year and she’s a tough kid,” Rush said. “She said she knows what happens to it and it happened last year. She knows her own body.”
Senior Emma Jutz turned in one of the best performances of her career, Rush said, scoring eight points and collecting six rebounds.
“That’s probably Emma’s highest scoring game,” Rush said. “She never really played before coming into high school, so it’s just been a matter of her gaining confidence in herself. She has the athletic ability. She had some great putbacks tonight. If she can do that every game, it’s really going to help us. She contributed great tonight.”
Senior point guard Teanna Greter added eight points. Freshman Cameron Eckert opened her varsity account with seven points.
Sophomore Kennedi Sipes led Crestline with 12 points. She also grabbed four rebounds. Junior Maddie Engler added seven points and junior Brooklyn Gregory chipped with five points. Senior Emma Kirby scored three points and sophomore Ellie Miller added two points.
“I’m proud of these girls for fighting,” Crestline head coach Lance Hood said. “We’re young. We’ve got a lot of girls that have never played basketball before. Three of them have never played varsity on a high level and we just have to get ready. Kennedi had a great game. She really kept her head into it and that’s what we’re going to need from her. We need a couple of more to get a little more aggressive with the basketball.”
At the end of a first quarter that saw both teams battling nerves as much as each other, Galion held an 8-5 lead. The Tigers found their stride in the second period, outscoring Crestline 16-8 to take a 24-13 halftime lead.
“We hit shots; that was nice. That always helps,” Rush said in regard to her team’s run in the second quarter. “We hit a couple of threes there and that gave us confidence. I think our defense really stepped up with Dezi Lester and Cameron Eckert. I told them to deny and they did. Sipes and Kirby, that’s who they run their offense through, and I wanted to shut that down. Us controlling the tempo of the game was really the turning point of it.”
Crestline played even with Galion in the third quarter as each side scored 14 points. The Tigers still emerged with an 11-point cushion, 38-27, heading into the final period. Neither team mustered much offense in the fourth quarter, though, and Galion sealed the win by outscoring Crestline 7-2 to close out the game.
“We are a program that’s going to work hard,” Hood said. “We are in shape and we push to the last drop. I gotta give my girls credit; there were times when they backed up, but then they got in. We’re young. We’re only going to lose one senior that has varsity experience, so next season we’re going to be a problem (for opposing teams) as long as the summer goes well.”
Galion (1-0) plays its home opener for the 2021-2022 season on Tuesday against Mount Gilead. Tip-off is set for 6 p.m.
Up next for Crestline (0-1) is a home date with St. Peter’s on Saturday, Nov. 27. Tip-off is scheduled for 1 p.m.