LENOX – Lenox narrowly escaped Bedford Thursday night in the opening round of Class 1A Region 7 girls basketball action with a 51-50 win in front of its home crowd.
With the game nearing its final minutes Lenox held a 10-point lead, an advantage it had through part of the third and most of the fourth quarter, before the offense fell stagnant.
Up 50-40, Lenox let an open Jaelin Daly drain a triple to pull the difference to seven. From there, it was a major struggle at the free-throw line for the Tigers as they went a resounding 1-for-7 from the line in the final minute and a half of play.
While Lenox struggled at the line, Bedford scored to cut the deficit to five, forced a turnover, scored again and then forced a foul from the perimeter to bring them to the line for three free throws.
Kennedy Weed hit all three free throws, but with the clock reading half a second, there was not enough time for Bedford to force a turnover and get a shot off before the final buzzer.
Bedford closed out the game on a 10-1 run while Lenox’s Brooklyn Ecklin went 0-for-6 from the free-throw line. Lenox head coach Jesse Cox was quick in his response when asked if watching his team struggle at the charity stripe while Bedford capitalized was leaving him on the edge of his seat.
“Yep! The bench is kind of thin right now, ... I’ve coached her (Ecklin) since she was in second grade, and she makes them,” said Cox. “It’s a different stage right now, but she’ll make them in the future. ... She’s a sophomore, little bit of pressure in a district game, I’ve been there. Not worried about it at all.”
With the win, Lenox now will face another Pride of Iowa opponent in Central Decatur. The Cardinals will host the second round in Leon, with tip coming Tuesday at 7 p.m.
“They’re shooting the ball real well, which is going to be a little bit of a concern,” said Cox on the upcoming match up. “I’m pretty sure the first time [we faced them] we held them to their lowest or second lowest point total of the year. If we follow the game plan, we can be a pretty good defensive team.
“Now we’ve got to beat somebody. No offense to anybody who we’ve beaten, but we need to beat somebody who’s got 15 to 20 wins under their belt and show we’re ready to take the next step,” Cox said.
Rule of three
The win for the Tigers makes it their third of the season over Bedford, a fellow Pride of Iowa opponent and local rival. Lenox beat Bedford Dec. 6 33-26 and Jan. 14 63-41 before Thursday’s postseason match up.
“Their top two shooters right now are probably the Weed girls, Kennedy and Kelly,” said Cox. “That was our main focus. Hard to tell as we gave up some threes to them, but we felt if we held them ... and held Emily Baker, ... we could have a little bit of success.”
The trio had a modest night against Lenox defenders, combining for 26 points. Kennedy Weed scored 16, a team-high, while Baker scored nine. Kelly Weed scored one point.
With knowing who to lock down, the Tigers took to the offensive with the 3-point shot liberally in the first quarter. Lenox’s slow offense saw them miss every 3-point attempt in the first eight minutes, on close to 10 attempts, but quickly righted the ship as the game progressed.
Cox said the plan of attack wasn’t quite to attack from distance as much as taking the open shot when given.
“[It was] just trying to find the open look,” said Cox. “... The girls did a good job. We were pretty patient and then we started hitting some shots.”
Much of the early success for shooting came from the 3-pointer in the second quarter, with guard Cassidy Nelson landing five 3-pointers in the second. Nelson closed out the first half with four straight scoring possessions from distance.
At the half, she had 20 points. She finished with 27 to lead the game.
“She was the main focal point, as most people know,” said Cox. “She’s had a rough week here, but she’s a trooper and bounced back. ... She caught fire and they (Bedford) were worried about her, and it made things easier for the other girls.”
An offense that was trying to find its identity after TJ Stoaks was shut down due to injury for the second time this season, Cox feels the balance between the guards in Nelson and McKinna Hogan has helped find a stable place for Lenox’s scoring.
“McKinna and Cassidy have kind of gone back-and-forth with who’s bringing the ball up and who’s the two-guard,” said Cox. “Now, they kind of have the balance where they can just look at each other and say you take it and run the offense. ... That’s what helps us.”
Hogan finished with three points. Jordan England scored 11 points.
BED (50) — 8 14 10 18
LEN (51) — 9 20 13 9
BEDFORD (FG FT PTS) — Totals — 14 15-25 50. Kennedy Weed 4 5-5 16, Emily Baker 3 3-6 9, Darcy Davis 2 2-2 8, Jaelin Daly 2 2-2 7, Macie Sefrit 2 0-0 5, Vivian Tract 1 2-8 4, Kelly Weed 1-2 1. 3-point goals — 7 (Ken. Weed 3, Davis 2). Team fouls — 23. Fouled out — Davis.
LENOX (FG FT PTS) — Totals — 15 15-28 51. Cassidy Nelson 8 6-9 27, Jordan England 3 5-6 11, Cadence Douglas 3 0-0 6, McKinna Hogan 0 3-4 3, Jynessa Cox 1 0-1 3, Kambrie Michel 0 1-2 1. 3-point goals — 6 (Nelson 5). Team fouls — 20. Fouled out — Nelson.