By Bill Battle
Missourian Sports Editor
If Monday’s slate of games is any indication, it’s going to be a wild year in the Four Rivers Conference.
In Union, the host Lady ’Cats (5-2, 1-0) earned a comeback victory over the Pacific Lady Indians (3-2, 0-1), 53-48.
“The biggest thing was that we stepped up and hit some big shots at the beginning of the third quarter to get our momentum going and our confidence back up again,” Union Head Coach Grant Young said. “We don’t have one go-to player. We’ve got to have a team effort because of our balanced scoring.”
On a night which saw last year’s league champion Hermann fall to Sullivan, 52-46, St. James beat last year’s Class 1 state runner-up New Haven, 41-38, and St. Clair top Owensville, 48-43, both coaches feel that it will be another interesting season in the FRC.
“I have a feeling there are going to be a lot of those scores,” Pacific Head Coach Josh Spuhl said. “There probably are going to be a lot of 4-3 and 3-4 records in the conference.”
“Coming from southwest Missouri with the COC (Central Ozark Conference) and the Ozark Conference, the Four Rivers Conference has got to be one of the toughest conferences outside the St. Louis area. Our conference, from top to bottom, can compare to the COC. All of the teams in the Four Rivers Conference are winning games. It’s going to be a fight.”
Spuhl feels the rest of the conference schedule is going to be very close as well.
“It’s super tough,” Spuhl said. “It’s going to be like that in all of the games throughout the conference.”
Union visits St. James Thursday (JV game starts at 6 p.m.).
“We take our win,” Young said. “St. James is really tough. They’ve come out of the gate 7-0. We’re going to be the underdog. We’re going to have to battle it out and see if we can sneak out a win.”
Pacific hosts New Haven starting at 5:30 p.m.
“Doug (Peirick) has them playing good,” Spuhl said. “New Haven always plays good defense. We’ve got to be ready to play them.”
Pacific came out strong by getting a three-point basket from senior Abby Spuhl to open the game. Union responded with a three from senior Whitney Vitt, but the first quarter belonged mainly to Pacific as Union chased for much of the first eight minutes.
Pacific got a three-point basket from Hunter Kelemen to lead 12-7 after one quarter.
Pacific continued to add to the lead in the second quarter and took a 22-16 advantage to the locker room at the intermission.
But that’s where things changed.
“The biggest thing was that we went into halftime and said we’re not finishing our shots,” Union Head Coach Grant Young said. “We only had 16 points at the half. We really had to focus on executing.”
Spuhl said the Lady Indians let down defensively.
“I knew a six-point lead was not going to be enough at halftime,” Spuhl said. “It’s what’s been going on in our three losses. We’ve got to get a bigger cushion because for some reason we don’t come out too hot in the second half. We’re going to have to work on that before we play New Haven.”
Spuhl said Pacific’s defense changed quite a bit from the first half.
“We quit playing defense,” Spuhl said. “We held them to 16 points in the first half. We let them score 37 in the second half. We can’t let up.”
Union netted the first seven points of the third quarter. Senior Rachael Bassett scored off a rebound. Sophomore Bethany Coons scored and was fouled (missing the free throw) and Vitt hit another three-point basket to give Union the lead, 23-22.
Pacific fought back. Sophomore Ellen Rogers was successful from just inside the three-point arc.
But a pair of free throws by Bassett and a fastbreak score with Bethany Coons finishing after taking a pass from her sister, senior Alyssa Coons, and Union had a three-point edge.
Pacific senior Lizzy Almo scored the final basket of the quarter to trim the Union lead to 31-30.
Almo’s two free throws gave Pacific the lead again early in the fourth quarter. She hit a free throw and a basket to make it 35-31 in favor of the lady Indians.
Bethany Coons picked up her fourth foul on a charge with 5:11 to play and things seemed to be turning Pacific’s way.
“You can’t ask much of a kid who picks up her fourth foul,” Young said. “She made up for it by getting some big steals on rebounds afterward”
However, Union picked that time to rally. Bassett scored off a rebound and scored another basket while being fouled. While she missed the free throw, Vitt grabbed the rebound and scored, giving Union a 41-37 lead.
With 2:35 to play, Pacific junior Kya Hill hit a pair of free throws to cut it to 41-39.
With time running out, Union put the ball into the hands of Bethany Coons, knowing that Pacific would have to foul for possessions.
Coons went 7-10 from the stripe and scored another basket off a steal following a missed free throw as Union extended its lead.
“We really kept the ball in her hands because she was making the free throws,” Young said. “That makes a big difference. I’m really proud of how our team stayed with it and finished at the free-throw line.”
Pacific got a three from Kelemen and baskets from sophomore Meagan Wakefield, Almo and Hill, but couldn’t get closer than five points before the game ended.
Union had three players finish with double-digit scoring.
Bethany Coons led Union in scoring with 22 points. She was 8-12 from the free-throw line.
Bassett ended the game with 14 points.
Vitt closed the contest with 12 points.
Alyssa Coons scored four points and senior Abbie Brack added one.
Almo led Pacific with 23 points.
“Lizzy played great,” Spuhl said. “We saw the opening in the high post and we put Lizzy there because she could knock that shot down and she took advantage of it.”
“She did a great job at the high post hitting some big shots in the first half,” Young said. “We tried to make sure she didn’t get as many touches in the high post and limit her touches. A lot of their stuff was going through her.”
Kelemen and Kya Hill scored eight points apiece.
Abby Spuhl scored three while Wakefield, junior Ashley Hill and Rogers netted two points apiece.