Jan. 28—PEKIN — Just when it appeared the Pekin girls basketball team was about to make a move, the Davis County Mustangs beat them to the punch.
Macy Hill came up one missed free throw shy of consecutive 24-point scoring efforts, finishing Thursday's non-conference road contest with a game-high 23 points helping Davis County secure a 50-35 win over the Panthers. Pekin could only manage moments of momentum as Davis County forced 21 turnovers, keeping the lead throughout the final three quarters.
"Our defense, once again, was the key to limiting the number of points that (Pekin senior Kerrigan) Pope had," Davis County head girls basketball coach Jeff Graves said. "I thought we did a pretty good job on her. You'd like to be 100 percent defensively effective on her, but she's a good ball player. She crossed into the lane a couple times, but I was pleased with the pressure we kept on their guards so they didn't find her inside every single time."
Pope finished with a team-leading 18 points while grabbing eight rebounds before fouling out midway through the fourth quarter. Emma Phillips narrowly missed out on a double-double in the paint for the Panthers, scoring nine points while hauling in 11 rebounds.
While Pekin may have had the slight advantage inside, Davis County countered by beat the Panthers along the perimeter on both ends of the court. The Mustangs came up with 12 steals, many of which led to transition baskets or fouls on the Panthers that helped Davis County stay on top after building a 23-15 halftime lead.
"The key to it that we always preach is that forward needs your help by putting pressure on the guards," Graves said. "I liked the defensive pressure we applied. We do a pretty decent job guarding the ball. Very seldom do we have anybody that can beat us with the dribble."
Hill was right at the forefront of the Davis County perimeter attack, scoring seven points in the first quarter as the Mustangs and Panthers played to a 10-10 tie after the opening eight minutes. Briley Lough, who like Phillips scored nine points and hauled in 11 rebounds, put Davis County ahead for good in the opening minute of the second quarter scoring inside on a feed from Laynee Moore before Sydney Henderson scored on a putback following a Mustang defensive stop, opening a 14-10 lead.
It was a far cry from the scoreless second quarter on Tuesday that forced the Mustangs to rally in the second half for a 41-32 South Central Conference win over Albia. Davis County scored the first nine points of the game against the Lady Dees, gave up the next 19 and responded with 21 unanswered points to rally for the win.
"I think we're a little slow getting going, but we really get locked in at halftime," Hill said. "You can't dwell on the previous plays. The next play is the most important one."
That mindset has helped Davis County clinch its first winning girls basketball season in eight years. The Mustangs continued to answer the Panthers throughout the contest, never letting their lead slip below seven points at any point including a quick run back down the court midway through the third quarter after a basket by Pope that brought Pekin within 28-21.
Lough immediately told her Mustang teammates to 'go.' The quick response led to a 3-point opportunity by Sophia Young on the other end of the court and a six-point surge that gave Davis County a sudden 13-point advantage.
"Our mentality to move on from the play before has really helped us," Hill said. "Even if we have a bad stretch, like we did Tuesday against Albia, that mindset has allowed us to have a winning response. We've got a lot of starters with a lot of experience, which has helped a lot. We just keep going and keep getting more comfortable playing together."
The loss is just the third in the last 10 games for the Panthers, who have improved throughout the season with several players finding new roles on the team. Pekin has a chance to continue that positive trend starting Friday night in a return to Southeast Iowa Superconference play at one-win Hillcrest Academy.
"This wasn't our best effort. We were just a step behind, but we knew what we had to do," Pekin head girls basketball coach Davis Eidahl said. "The thing we lack the most is an experienced point guard. We can be effective getting the ball inside to Kerrigan. It's just a matter of getting it to her consistently."
Davis County (12-7) returns home to host Clarke in SCC action on Friday night.
— Scott Jackson can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter@CourierScott.