SEBEWAING — Unionville-Sebewaing Area’s girls’ basketball team accomplished more in the last eight minutes than it did in the first 24 of Thursday’s 34-29 Greater Thumb West win over Cass City.
Their sluggish first three quarters of play saw the Patriots faced with a 22-15 deficit going into the fourth, but USA’s Rylee Zimmer was at the forefront of atoning for those struggles with 12 of her game-high 19 points coming in the final period of play.
After totaling 15 points through the first three quarters, USA accounted for 19 in the fourth in what was the best quarter of the night for either team.
USA took the game’s first lead at 2-0, but didn’t lead again until two points from Zimmer put the Patriots in front of the Red Hawks at 26-25 with 5:16 remaining in the fourth quarter.
A two-point basket from Cass City’s Kelly Ziegler in response put the Red Hawks back on top, 27-26, for what was their final lead of the night. Their final two points came from Abbey Salcido, but USA was able to secure the win by scoring nine of the last 11 points overall.
Zimmer, who accounted for 15 second-half points, made 7 of her 10 fourth-quarter free throws to help the Patriots fend off the Red Hawks.
“The first half of the game I struggled to make shots, but my teammates were there to help,” said Zimmer. “At the end, I started getting into it and knew I had to be the leader and take charge, so I told my teammates to give me the ball so I could shoot the free throws (when Cass City was forced to foul).
“It always feels amazing to get a win,” she added. “Every team struggles sometimes, but as long as we finish strong, that’s all that matters.”
USA coach Bryce Frahm holds his best player to a high standard, and said he was very impressed with the way Zimmer took charge down the stretch.
“What you saw her do in the fourth quarter, scoring, handling the ball and defending, is what she’s capable of doing for all four quarters,” said Frahm of Zimmer. “When she’s locked in and really engaged, she makes up for a lot and it’s fun to watch her play.”
Grace Williamson was next in line for USA scoring with six points, which included a pair of fourth-quarter fastbreak layup conversions to add to the Patriots’ growing momentum in the final stretch of play.
Frahm praised Brynn Polega and Maci Montgomery for their late contributions as well as those of Zimmer and Williamson.
“Grace had a couple big baskets in the fourth, Brynn had a basket and Maci hit a three,” said Frahm. “We finally took into account that we needed some other people to step up.”
Kelly Ziegler and Layna Mathewson had 11 points each to lead Cass City, which got scoring contributions from just two other players for an imbalance that contributed to the late inconsistencies on the offensive end.
The loss snapped a four-game winning streak for the Red Hawks, who outscored the Patriots 16-9 in the middle quarters after each team scored six in the first.
Said Frahm of what keyed his team’s turnaround, “We just started making shots after it seemed like we were on defense for most of the night.
“We’ve got to have all five (on-court players) competing,” he added. “It was a learning opportunity for us, and we did a much better job in the second half. If we can get to a point where everyone brings it for 32 minutes, then we could be really special.”
USA (4-3, 2-1 GTC West) next travels to Laker High on Tuesday, while Cass City (5-4, 2-2 GTC West) will host Caro on Thursday.
Adam Smith is sports editor at The Advertiser and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.