Caro’s defense carried it to a 44-21 Greater Thumb West girls’ basketball win over visiting Vassar Friday in a pink-themed event to benefit cancer awareness.
But if you ask Tigers’ coach Jay Riley and look to Ashlin Murphy’s career-high 14 points and six rebounds as one of the key contributions, the offense is showing encouraging signs of its own.
“We tried to do something different today and use our length a little bit in our 1-3-1 halfcourt (press), but we got out of that early and went into the (fullcourt) press,” said Riley. “(Murphy’s) hands were so active on our press that she got a lot of tips into the air she was able to come down with and convert into baskets.
“We’re a much better team when we can get into our (fullcourt) press and get going, so (Murphy’s) performance today was huge for us.”
Murphy had plenty of help on the offensive end with Ellie Hornbacher — the team’s leading scorer this year at more than nine points per game — following closely behind her with a similarly balanced effort of 12 points, five rebounds, four steals, three assists and a block.
“Ellie’s been our most consistent player all year,” said Riley. “We ask her to handle the ball for 30 minutes a game, aside from when she’s tired or maybe gets in foul trouble, and she averages less than two turnovers per game.
“For a junior point guard in her second year on varsity, you can’t ask for much more than that.”
The Tigers, allowing less than 40 points per game this year, held the Vulcans to seven points or less in each quarter. Caro led 9-4 after the first quarter, increased its advantage to 20-8 by halftime and led 28-14 entering the fourth quarter.
Putting away Vassar emphatically, Caro outscored it 16-7 over the last eight minutes.
In addition to Murphy’s scoring and rebounding numbers, she had three steals and a block.
“All the deflections we created gave us more scoring chances and stopped them from getting set on the offensive end,” said Murphy, a senior forward.
She added of her breakout game on the offensive end, “It felt good helping us get a win, and it’s good for my confidence. Our guards were getting the ball to us for some good looks.”
Caro has had other players take turns leading it this year, with Kaitlyn Arebalo averaging roughly eight points per game and Lilly Hessling averaging more than eight rebounds per game.
“We haven’t hit our full stride yet with everyone we want scoring, but we’ve had nights when different people have stepped up,” said Riley.
“We’ve been struggling with our shooting the last two games, so Ashlin’s scoring tonight was a huge help to us winning the game,” he added.
It just so happened that Murphy and Hornbacher were at the forefront of the team’s offensive and defensive execution on Friday.
“We worked for clean passes and open looks, and we had a lot of assists tonight. I think that’s what gave us the game,” said Hornbacher. “We’re a very unselfish team, and this should help with our confidence after a few lower-scoring games.”
Lainey Zwerk led Vassar (2-4, 0-3 GTC West) with 13 points, which included seven of her team’s eight in the first half.
Caro (4-4, 2-2 GTC West) was coming off a one-point loss to Unionville-Sebewaing Area, 39-38, in its last outing.
The Tigers played Reese late Tuesday after The Advertiser went to press, and spoke after the win over Vassar of using the challenge of facing the league unbeaten Rockets as a measuring stick of where they’re at and what they can look to improve on.
As the saying goes, either you win or you learn.
“We lost a heartbreaker to USA and a game to Laker High, but second place is still there to be had,” said Riley, adding that his team will get the chance to avenge those losses on the second run through the GTC West schedule.
Adam Smith is sports editor at The Advertiser and can be reached at email@example.com.