When The Rock Lady Lions' girls' basketball team visited the Buchholz Bobcats at Bud Seymour Gymnasium on Thursday night, the Lions would lead by as many as 22 points in the third quarter.
However, in a gutsy performance, the Bobcats would claw their way back within single digits behind a big third quarter paced by perimeter shooting.
But as the game wound down, Buchholz (6-9) saw its comeback bid slip away as the The Rock (9-9) polished off the game to win 66-55.
Buchholz jumps out to quick lead before The Rock settles in
After The Rock freshman Mayah Gordon scored the opening points of the game with a pair of made free throws, Buchholz went on an early tear to pin the Lions on their heels.
Buchholz senior Hannah Mack dropped back-to-back threes from the right corner to put the Bobcats ahead 6-2 early in the first quarter.
"That's our Stephen Curry," Buchholz head coach Niya Johnson joked of Mack. "She's a great leader as well and very vocal. We're glad to have her, but we're going to miss her next year."
After giving up a 8-0 run to Buchholz, The Rock would battle its way back into the first quarter with an 8-0 run of its own as The Rock freshman Jayden Terry put up four first-quarter points en route to a 14-point effort on the night.
Lions hit the gas in second quarter
With a slim two-point lead heading into the second period, The Rock really began to find its rhythm.
With the help of its junior tandem in Roksana Sajdak and Valerija Prtenjaca, the Lions orchestrated a big, 22-point quarter to take charge of the game and enter half time with a 34-17 lead.
Prtenjaca, who finished the night with 12 points, nailed three shots from beyond the arc in the second quarter, forcing the Bobcats to inch up the floor to defend the perimeter.
Meanwhile, Sajdak went to work closer to the basket and came away seven of her 30 points in the second period.
"She listens well," The Rock head coach Sheena Lewis said of Sajdak. "If she makes a mistake, she's looking for what she can do better. And then she goes back and she steps up. She's over here from Poland... there is a language barrier, but she is working really, really hard to understand and to adjust herself to play to our speed."
Coming into Thursday night's game, Sajdak was averaging 11.5 points per game. Her 30 piece against the Bobcats is a season-high.
Buchholz storms back
Though the Bobcats were trailing by 17 points coming out of the break, there were no signs of surrendering from Buchholz and its bench.
The Rock continued to outscore Buchholz in the opening minutes of the second half as Terry and Sajdak continued to put points on the board to help the Lions to a 22-point lead over the Bobcats.
But Buchholz would go on to find some juice behind junior Toni Davis, who issued a quick four points, followed by a made three-pointer.
The Bobcats would go on to make five straight three pointers to finish the third quarter and start the fourth quarter as freshman Jamison Cardwell drained a trio of deep shots to pull Buchholz back within single digits.
"If they go in, why change it," Johnson said. "We have a lot of players who can play different positions and that does a lot. That helps their confidence. It boosts their confidence and it boosts the team. It gets us excited and adds some energy."
Cardwell went on to finish the night with 16 points, while senior Tyra Peterson added five points for the Bobcats.
Late adjustments help Lions pull out the win
After watching Buchholz dig its way out of what was, at one point, a huge deficit, The Rock found itself with a narrow lead after the Bobcats' shooting efforts warmed up.
"I put a few players in that I'm giving them an opportunity to really step up," Lewis said of adjustments she made late in the game. "I'm a defensive coach so if we get out there and we fail on defense, we have to be able to make that adjustment. And the adjustment I made was to put certain players back in who I know is going to step up and who is going to get the stops on defense."
Sajdak, who stretches 5-foot-11, was one of those defenders who made impacts down the stretch and converted turnovers into points. Sajdak went on to score 11 points in the final quarter of play.
Another defender who silently had a big impact for the Lions was senior Tanner Bost, who finished the night with eight points.
"She's very consistent," Lewis said. "Tanner is probably our most level-headed. So even when the game is on the line, Tanner is going to be that calm force on the court. She's going to be able to keep it together and I know defensively that I can trust her. In keeping her on the court when we are in a close game like that, I know Tanner is going to step up on defense and she's going to make it happen."
After coming off of back-to-back close losses, Johnson says that she and the Bobcats are ready for some time to practice.
After seeing its program impacted by the nation's recent surge of Covid-19, Buchholz hasn't had practice time in two weeks.
When the Bobcats do return to action, it'll be on Monday against St. Johns Country Day at 2 p.m. at Hawthorne's MLK Showcase.
The Rock's upcoming schedule looks much the same as the Lions will also be appearing in Hawthorne's tournament. However, the Lions won't see their game against the hosting Hornets tip off until 3:30 p.m.
This article originally appeared on The Gainesville Sun: Roksana Sajdak helps The Rock to 66-55 victory over Buchholz