Kristy Dick subbed out of Friday night’s game against Sheridan with just under 4 minutes remaining. Natrona County was in control and cruising to a victory. Its senior leader stretched out and took up multiple chairs on the bench.
The Fillies led 47-24 at that point. That led was cut down dramatically as Sheridan’s few remaining starters and bench players started hitting the shots they were previously missing. The Broncs didn’t stop at the 12-2 run that forced a Natrona County timeout. They kept hitting.
Natrona County held on for a 51-40 win on its home court. But a problem much larger than a non-conference game in December had been posed with Sheridan outscoring NC 16-4 in the final 4 minutes. If Dick, a returning all-state selection, is not on the court, what sort of team are the Fillies?
Like most teams, when they’re struggling they turn to their leader. And the Fillies (4-2) struggled early. An early 9-0 lead quickly vanished against the Broncs’ press. Sheridan (1-5) cut the lead to 14-10 at the end of the quarter. Dick had 10 of Natrona County’s 14 points. She finished with 19.
“They’re a really good defensive team with great coaching,” Dick said. “At first we weren’t really executing the plays, we weren’t really running the way we needed to run. That’s something we take a lot of pride in because we put a lot of work in practice to be able to show we’re in shape. That’s one of the things we pride ourselves in and I think we were kind of jogging, and a little frazzled because they brought that man press on us.”
The Fillies worked well in transition but the half-court offense struggled. Pressure from Sheridan’s Riley Rafferty and Alli Puuri forced turnovers and the Fillies grew timid.
At one point in the first quarter Natrona County ran its offense through isolation plays with Dick. Sheridan collapsed into a triple team that sent her to the free-throw line. NC’s standout attempted seven free throws in the first quarter alone.
“I think the second quarter was the time that we really meshed and settled down, focused in,” Dick said. “That was when everything else disappeared, we really meshed well and got some stuff going.”
Driving lanes opened and the Fillies weren’t afraid to take open shots. Senior guard Emma Swan became more aggressive and attacked the basket. Six of Swan’s eight points came in the first half.
The defense fed off the improved offense and held Sheridan to just two points in the second quarter. The Fillies went into the break leading 24-12 on a corner 3 from Bre Kelly off an assist from Dick and remained in the driver’s seat in the second half.
Sheridan’s offense generated good looks from there but most didn’t fall. It wasn’t until Dick had subbed out for the game that the Broncs made a significant run. Senior Kaylee Abernatha came off the bench to score a team-high 14 for the Broncs.
Consistency has limited Natrona County early on. Dick is typically the leading scorer but scorers around her have fluctuated. Dick finished Friday’s game with 12 rebounds and seven assists in addition to her game-high 19 points. Kelly was the next-leading scorer for the Fillies, finishing with 11, all coming in the second and third quarters.
Sophomore Kate Robertson, who has gotten off to an impressive start this season by averaging 10.8 points and 8.6 rebounds per game, slumped slightly. She had five rebounds and only two points Friday, but Dick’s not worried about that being a trend.
“She’s more comfortable and confident this year,” Dick said. “I think there’s a certain way you can handle yourself on the court when you have that confidence that comes, maybe not from yourself, but from your coaches.
“And it’s not that I think coach (Doug) Diehl was ever not confident in her, but I think this year we’re working on that a lot more specifically with her. Saying stuff like, ‘Kate, you’re good. You can dribble the ball, you can shoot the ball.’ At least I hope that’s giving her that confidence.”
The potential is there for Natrona County. Guard play from Kelly, Swan and Marquel Gibson has been great at times. Even junior Morgan Schwindt, sophomore Kylie Hilderbrand and freshman Brooklyn Hytrek had their moments to shine in the fourth quarter Friday.
But the Fillies also turned the ball over 17 times and that can’t continue.
“We’re going to have to play consistent for a solid 32 (minutes),” Dick said. “Some people aren’t being aggressive enough and we aren’t taking care of the ball as we should — I’m pretty guilty of that one.”