With a rattle of the rim, the basketball bounced up before plummeting toward two players. One was Cheyenne East junior 5-foot- 11 post Kalee McEwan. The other was Kelly Walsh’s 5-4 starting point guard Hallie Jimenez.
Height disparity wasn’t going to limit Jimenez, who stretched her limitations in effort of corralling the defensive rebound. However, with little effort, McEwan plucked the ball out of the air and threw it off the backboard for two points.
Jimenez looked to the bench with the facial expression of a shoulder shrug.
The Trojans trailed early but rallied to tie the game late in the third quarter. That’s when East hauled in the rebounds and went on a 13-0 run into the final frame to win 52-43 on Tuesday night at Kelly Walsh High School.
“Rebounding has just been our Achilles heel the last couple of games,” Kelly Walsh head coach Sara Tuomi said. “We need to work on that over Christmas and just be ready to battle in those situations. We’re trying to out-jump people instead of boxing them out and moving them out of the way.”
Cheyenne East outrebounded Kelly Walsh 32-23. Senior Jazzy Espinoza led the Thunderbirds with eight rebounds while McEwan added six. Kelly Walsh sophomore Corin Carruth also grabbed eight boards.
Carruth had her hands full in the paint with McEwan and the rest of East’s size. There was only so much the inexperienced sophomore could do to contend with the physicality of the bigger forwards.
“We had the young post out there in Corin, who is kind of learning as she goes and that can be kind of frustrating for her,” Tuomi said, “but just to get her in those situations to where she can learn.”
Then there’s senior Jamia Johnson, who typically plays along the wing and functioned as a base-line runner against East’s wide 2-3 zone.
“For Jamia, she’s just got to be very physical but she also has to be very smart in those situations,” Tuomi said. “Trying to balance those two can be kind of rough.”
Providing relief off the bench for the Trojans was junior Hadley Lloyd. Midway through the third quarter it was Lloyd who came away with consecutive offensive rebounds, which she turned into four points, and made a steal that led to the tying basket.
Despite the rebounding woes the Trojans knotted it at 34-all.
“We got great minutes from Hadley Lloyd, who went in and battled with those post players,” Tuomi said. “Hadley is a very intelligent human being to begin with but she can go in and she can execute a lot of the things we asked of her.”
Lloyd tied senior starter Madison Vinich for the second-most rebounds on the team with four, despite her limited minutes. She also had six points.
East seized the momentum after that, scoring the final four points of the quarter. Perhaps the physicality of the T-Birds had wore down the Trojans because the next nine points went to East and the once-tied battle swung dramatically in the way of the defending Class 4A champions.
“It’s really easy when you’re missing shots and the transition goes and they’re getting buckets,” Tuomi said. “That killed us against (Billings) West too, they got some misses and scored on the fast break against us.”