HARROD — While Allen East entered Thursday with a spotless 4-0 mark in the Northwest Conference, the Mustangs were also beginning the thick of their conference schedule.
A day later, Allen East is still unscathed after beating rival Bluffton 47-42, in a girls basketball showdown that featured two of the three teams atop the NWC standings.
The Mustangs improved to 12-4 overall and 5-0 in the NWC while Bluffton is 10-5, 4-1. As of Thursday’s standings, Crestview was the other unbeaten in the conference.
“It’s a huge win,” Allen East coach Jarrod Wehri said. “Bluffton was sitting atop the conference with us, they’re a tremendous team. It’s one of those rival games, the girls have played each other since sixth grade, and they know each other so well.”
Bluffton led for the first quarter-and-a-half with decent shooting while Allen East struggled offensively. The Pirates jumped out to a 10-5 lead with just under two minutes to play in the first quarter and held a 19-14 lead with 2:51 to play in the second half after Sami Fruchey nailed a 3-pointer.
But Allen East’s defense gradually came alive and started causing turnovers while senior guard Kaycee Rowe got a balanced offensive attack going.
“We weren’t communicating at all as a team in the first quarter,” said Rowe, who led all scorers with 16 points. “But in the second quarter, we stepped it up and played together. Our defense definitely played better, we communicated and got steals and that really brought our intensity up.”
After Fruchey’s trey put Allen East down 19-14, the Mustangs began a 14-0 run that gave them a 28-19 lead with 5:41 remaining in the third quarter. During that run, Allen East’s offense scored on seven-of-13 possessions and had five different players score. The defense, meanwhile, forced eight turnovers.
“We picked up our energy,” Wehri said. “Anything in life, it’s all about effort and enthusiasm. Once we decided to make defense a priority, we picked up the intensity and used our athleticism to go on a run.”
Though Allen East never trailed again, Bluffton never went away. The Pirates immediately buried two of their five 3-pointers and cut the lead to 28-25. That became a trend the rest of the way: Every time Allen East seemed to get a safe lead, Bluffton would bounce back.
Twice early in the fourth quarter, the Pirates cut their deficit to one point, but each time the Mustangs got a bucket or free throws to push back ahead.
Then, with less than a minute to go, Allen East’s Carly Clum turned in a huge defensive block on a layup that would have cut the lead to 44-42. Instead, the Mustangs went the other way, hit a free throw and gained a late 45-40 edge.
Though 3-pointers and solid defense helped Bluffton nearly pull off a big road win, turnovers killed the Pirates as they finished with 26.
“Turnovers have been our problem, and it hurt us tonight,” Bluffton coach Eric Garmatter said. “We told them coming in the team that made the least mistakes would win, and we just turned the ball over too many times. To make that many mistakes and still be in the game says something about our team, though.”
Sarah Schriner led Bluffton with 15 points while Fruchey finished with 12 points.
Along with Rowe’s 16 points, Aubri Woods and Clum each scored 11 points.
And while the loss means Bluffton slips out of the driver’s seat, Allen East certainly isn’t in the clear. The Mustangs travel to Columbus Grove on Thursday and still will face Crestview and a trip to Delphos Jefferson for the remainder of their NWC schedule.
“This was a good win, we knew it was going to be a battle,” Rowe said. “It gives us confidence and gets us ready to go for the rest of the way.”