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Alleman rolls past Mercer County with impressive defensive night
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Alleman rolls past Mercer County with impressive defensive night

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When a team turns it over 24 times — almost the same amount as its total points — it’s not going to win.

That’s what happened to Mercer County.

The Golden Eagles traveled, double-dribbled and made bad passes in their 52-30 loss to the Pioneers on Tuesday at Alleman High School.

The game was never competitive, as Alleman jumped out to an 11-3 lead after the end of the first quarter. Mercer County shot just 1-11 from the field and turned it over six times.

“We knew we had to come out aggressively,” Alleman senior Averi Rangel said. “That’s been the biggest strength for us this year. We were told to jump passes and we did that. We were able to be the defensive team we know we can be.”

By halftime the Golden Eagles (5-11) had more turnovers (12) than points (8). The Pioneers struggled to get shots to fall as well, but Alleman took a 22-8 lead into half.

Rangel and Clair Hulke were to thank for the lead. The pair seemed to be the only ones able to sink shots for the Pioneers (9-10), with Rangel totaling eight and Hulke seven at the break.

“When we move the ball around a lot, we can find openings in the post,” Hulke said. “With the help of my teammates, I was able to get some open looks.”

But the second half is where Hulke and Rangel really started to get going. Hulke began getting open look after open look in the paint, ending the night with 19 points — 16 down low.

“Clair is a mismatch on most nights because she can go down low or outside,” Alleman coach Steve Ford said. “She helps us handle the ball against presses and just does it all. The girls are getting a good feel of the inside-out game and they were able to get some good looks.”

No one benefited more from those outside looks than Rangel. The only senior starter sunk three 3s on the night, but her dagger to make it 37-20 early in the fourth put any questions about the game’s outcome on ice. She finished with 13 points.

The only thing that didn’t seem to go Alleman’s way Tuesday was rebounding. Mercer County won the boards battle 32-21 and scored all of its eight points in the first half after grabbing offensive rebounds.

“I know we were in position, but their strength was just pushing us out of the way,” Ford said. “They were getting out over the top of us and we weren’t staying with them. We had to have two girls on (Gabriella McPeek) on the line or else she would jump over us. There is no doubt we will be the smaller team most nights.”

McPeek took advantage of Alleman’s lack of size to grab seven rebounds and finished tied for a team high with eight points. Ava Ruggles also had eight after subbing in late in the fourth.

But even as Mercer County turned the ball over at a high rate — the Golden Eagles had more turnovers than points until 4:31 left in the fourth — the game was still closer than one would be led to believe. It was a 14 point game heading into the fourth and Alleman only brought the lead to 20 in the final minute — despite holding Mercer County to 11-37 shooting from the field.

“We forced some turnovers, but the next thing we need to do is read the defense on those turnovers,” Ford said. “When you play that hard, you shouldn’t be making bad passes. We were going down and just missing a shot right away and you don’t want to do that because then you’re just playing hard defense again.”

But for Alleman, its defense was enough for tonight. The Pioneers’ 52-30 victory brought them just one game back of .500. It’s a big step for a program that only won one game (1-13) a season ago.

“After not having the best season last year, we have a ton of motivation to have a good season this year for our two seniors,” Hulke said. “We want to give them a great final year. I just think we are playing so much better as a team. We just have so much chemistry on the court and that’s really helped us.”

Alleman will look for its third straight victory when it returns to the court at 7 p.m. against United Township at home.

“We’ve been the team that has been beat by 22,” Rangel said. “We know how it feels. It’s good to go out there and show everyone who we can actually be and who we want to be.”

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