GIBSON CITY - The Lady Falcons responded to an 0-2 start to the season with a buzzer-beating win in overtime and 32-point win the following night to finish the Lady Falcon and Bunnies Tip-Off Classic at 2-2.
Of the four games opening week, only the third game, against Unity, was a close contest.
With 11.9 seconds remaining, GCMS inbounded, and Mikayla Baillie found an opening into the lane and put up a potential game winner.
The shot missed, but the senior grabbed her own rebound and put it back up, just in time to clinch her team’s first win of the season as time expired, and the crowd erupted.
“I felt like I was going to ruin that so badly,” Baillie said about her missed first shot attempt. “It came right back into my hands, and then it went in.”
After missing a large part of the second half due to foul trouble, the third-year starter was called to return, and the Falcons' game winning play was drawn up for her.
“It wasn’t exactly the way it was supposed to go, but last second shots really aren’t ever exactly the way they’re supposed to go,” Baillie said.
Carrying the Falcons through much of Baillie’s absence was fellow senior Amber Wittemann, who led the way with 18 points scored from virtually everywhere on the floor.
Wittemann lit up for 15 first half points, while closing out the half with the final eight points.
“I’m so happy with her right now,” Baillie said of her classmate. “She came out in the first half just on fire. It’s like nobody could stop her. She has this little thing on her wrist that’s been hurting her. She says it messes up her mojo. I think it just ignites it. She played fantastic.”
Battling an unknown injury to her right hand since game two, the point guard just kept playing through pain and impressed everyone.
In the second half, Wittemann shifted to a distributing role, garnering a number of assists that included a pass to Madi Thompson through two defenders and no-look passes to Makenzi Bielfeldt and Claire Schmitt.
Leading the way
Head GCMS girls basketball coach Mindy Whitehouse pulled Wittemann aside for a talk during camp, hoping to make her the catalyst of the team.
“Amber is pretty quiet, pretty mellow. She doesn’t want attention, but unfortunately she’s my (point) guard. She’s also the catalyst,” Whitehouse said. “When she buys into it, and she starts playing defense and covers the court, you can just see the rest of the girls buy into it. You need that one person.”
Whitehouse said Wittemann’s best offensive nights have been on the greatest defensive nights.
“You can talk about how well she shot tonight, but her defense was ridiculous,” Whitehouse said after Thursday’s win.
Wittemann even set up Baillie’s opportunity to hit the game winning shot when she put pressure on Unity’s point guard and forced a traveling turnover with 12 seconds left in overtime.
Wittemann said her confidence has grown this season, thanks to her teammates.
“The first two games were rough for us, and I didn’t want what happened last year to happen again where we lost a lot,” she said. “So I talked to every one of my teammates. I trusted them, and they helped me. We helped each other.
“The first two games, I was a little hesitant,” she added. “I just decided to shoot it (tonight) and it turned out well.”
Whitehouse was pleased with the team's ability to close the game and felt the end result was reflective of the defensive effort.
“I think our defense was pretty good tonight,” Whitehouse said after the win. “That team didn’t normally shoot the ball well, and tonight they were shooting the ball. So we went back to the man (defense). I thought we adjusted well on that.”
Whitehouse said the team almost didn’t get things done, thanks to poor free throw shooting.
“We are not shooting well on free throws. Nothing’s changed from the other two games,” Whitehouse said. “I told them there are three fundamentals we need to take care of to win any game: free throws, boxing out and communication.”
While boxing out will surely be a focus in practice, one key moment in Thursday’s win proved critical.
When Baillie went up for her game winning rebound and shot, freshman Makenzi Bielfeldt had her opponent boxed out just enough to create the space needed for Baillie to grab her own rebound and hit a game winner under the basket.
There may be plenty to improve on, but for now, the team and coach will take the wins wherever they can get them.
“We pulled it off,” Whitehouse said.
On Friday, GCMS trounced Villa Grove 53-21 behind 21 points from Baillie and 11 from Wittemann.
The Lady Falcons return to the courts Monday, Nov. 30, at home against Cissna Park.
JV starts that matchup at 5:30.
GCMS 36 Iroquis West 52
Mikayla Baillie had 12 points, and Amber Witteman added 8 for GCMS, as the Raiders jumped out to a 28-14 halftime lead.
GCMS 31 PBL 46
The Falcons tied PBL for second quarter points but were outscored in the other three quarters of the loss.
Mikayla Baillie had 11 points, followed by Claire Schmitt with 8.
GCMS 57 Unity 56
Amber Wittemann’s 18 points led the team, but Mikayla Baillie’s overtime buzzer beater gave the Lady Falcons a reason to celebrate.
Makenzie Bielfeldt added 12 points off the bench.
GCMS 53 Villa Grove 21
The Falcons quickly responded to a 12-9 first quarter deficit and outscored Villa Grove 17-2 in the second quarter.
Mikayla Baillie stepped up with 21 points, including three 3-pointers and led GCMS to a 32 point victory and 2-2 overall record.