With her team in the midst of a low-scoring CCL contest against DeSales on Jan. 6, Watterson girls basketball player Kiley Graham didn’t let her focus wane.
The 6-foot-2 senior – the tallest player on the court that night – missed a pair of free throws and a basket that would have tied the score at 21, but came through by making a pair of foul shots with 1 minute, 37 seconds left and the first of two with 29.8 seconds to go to pull the Eagles within one.
After a DeSales timeout, Graham then hit the second free throw to force overtime, and added another four foul shots in the extra session as Watterson won 30-26. She also finished with 20 rebounds.
It was an example of the focus that the Eagles know will be crucial if they’re to remain in the league title race and be a factor in the Division I district tournament.
Watterson has been a district runner-up in four of the past five seasons.
“I knew they were trying to mess with my mind (when DeSales called timeout in between the free throws), but I was just like, ‘You’re not going to do it today,’ ” Graham said. “I always get in the gym and start shooting free throws. I have my routine and I don’t let anything bother me.
“We can win a lot of games. We have a good culture and that’s going to help us win games. We know in the back of our minds when someone is open. That’s just how comfortable we are with each other, and especially our bench pushes us to do better on defense. When our defense is good, it translates better to our offense.”
The Eagles lost a pair of college recruits to graduation in Kilyn McGuff (Belmont) and Danielle Grim (Long Island).
In addition, McGuff’s sister, junior Keiryn McGuff, transferred to the Webb School in Bell Buckle, Tennessee.
Graham also has a college future after signing with the University of Charleston in November, but the Eagles have five other seniors who are taking on major roles for the first time. Also, Watterson has dealt with injuries.
The win over DeSales was the CCL opener for Watterson, which was 9-2 after beating Watkins Memorial 51-32 on Jan. 8. The Eagles will visit the Stallions on Jan. 27 and have two other CCL games remaining.
Graham missed two games with a finger injury and junior Sydney Spears, a 6-0 forward, has missed action with a foot injury.
While Graham averages 10.5 points, coach Sam Davis has used a nine-player rotation that also includes senior returnees Norah Dorley (wing player), Tonya Eagle (guard) and Camille Gregory (guard).
The win over DeSales also was the fifth by five points or fewer for the Eagles, who gave up an average of 37.4 points through 10 games.
“We have a lot of trust in each other,” Eagle said. “We’ve just got to trust the person that’s guarding the ball. They always know they’ve got two people right behind that are going to be there on the drive.”
Seniors Alexa Machol (guard/wing player) and Kenna Ryan (guard), who spent most of last season on junior varsity, have become key players along with freshman Sophie Ziel, a 5-7 combo guard.
With Graham unable to play in a 47-38 loss to Bexley on Dec. 22, Ryan and Ziel both scored 11 points.
Still, Watterson hopes its motion offense creates better shots in key situations. Against DeSales, the Eagles were just 1-for-10 from 3-point range.
“They’re just unselfish,” Davis said. “No one cares who gets the credit. Kiley obviously is a very good player, but she doesn’t force stuff. We’re moving the ball really well. When we’re running motion, we’re really moving the ball well.
“Sophie is a freshman and the team treats her like she’s just another teammate. That’s part of our success right now. We lost really good players from last year, and for these kids to step in and do what these kids are doing is exciting. Defensively, we’re where we should be at this point in the season. And offensively, we still have to become a better passing team in order for us to be the type of team we can really be at tournament time.”
This article originally appeared on ThisWeek: Girls Basketball: Watterson Eagles tuning up for postseason