Mar. 19—ADAMS — Thursday's girls basketball game between Copenhagen and South Jefferson wasn't a playoff game, but it sure had the feeling of one.
When head coaches Natalie Scott and Michelle Whitley made plans for a game between the Class D Golden Knights and the Class B Spartans, the hope was that it would be a rare matchup between two very good programs and result in a tightly contested game — something Copenhagen has desperately missed this season.
The Golden Knights and the Spartans delivered on that hope, with South Jefferson securing a narrow come-from-behind victory, 63-60.
South Jefferson's Emma Schafer has missed the adrenaline of a down-to-the-wire game.
"It was great, that's the love we have for it," Schafer said. "It's a nice adrenaline rush and the not knowing if you're going to win or not, it was basically like a playoff game. It was nice to be back."
By the game's end, Copenhagen (10-1), which runs only seven players, had begun to experience fatigue. This ultimately led to some poor passes, made worse by South Jefferson's suffocating press defense.
The Golden Knights began the final quarter with a 10-point lead, but South Jefferson (5-0) slowly began to erase that deficit with quick steals and aggressive moves to the basket.
Jackie Piddock, who struggled in the first half, was much more aggressive in the second, scoring 26 points in the final two quarters and was 11-for-13 from the free-throw line. She finished with 32 points while Schafer had 15.
"I think my mentality wasn't where it needed to be (in the first half)," Piddock said. "Their defense was good and it caught us off guard with the zone, we haven't really gone against good zones. But I think my mentality needed a change about how to attack it."
In the second half, Piddock got much more aggressive in taking the ball to the rim, drawing fouls along the way.
"One of the things that I believe in, I'm defense first," Whitley said. "I'd rather beat someone 10-9 than 110-109, and I think that in the 24-plus years that I've been coaching, defense feeds your offense. When our defense wasn't very good, our offense wasn't very good."
Piddock was responsible for a lot of steals in the final minutes that resulted in South Jefferson eventually erasing Copenhagen's lead.
The Spartans also began securing more rebounds, a point of the game that Copenhagen had dominated.
"That's all in the kid, they finally started to box out and we beat them to the ball," Whitley said. "Versus, watch them try to go toe-to-toe with us, because that wasn't working. I do have a couple of bigs who can typically just put there hands up and get the rebound over somebody."
For South Jefferson, this was the home finale. And while it wasn't said by Whitley on bench, it was understood by the players that something needed to change if they wanted to avoid losing at home.
"This is our last home game for our seniors, so we wanted to get this win for them," Schafer said. "And we protect our house at all costs, so we weren't about to lose in our own house."
Despite the thrilling end, South Jefferson played from behind for most of the games 32 minutes.
At one point in the second quarter, the Golden Knights led by as many as 18 points and had shut out the Spartans until there were 2 minutes, 21 seconds left in the half.
Part of what fueled their success was the ability to secure rebounds on both ends of the floor. Copenhagen's tallest girl, Charli Carroll, played a major role on boards, but also offensively. Many of Copenhagen's errant shots landed in her hands where she promptly returned it through the hoop. She finished with a team-high 17 points, while guard Brooke Smykla scored 14.
Scott was confident in her team's ability to score and put together productive possessions. The key came on defense — to beat South Jefferson, a team needs to stop Jackie Piddock.
"We needed to play defense to stop Piddock first," Scott said. "We stressed moving our feet more than our hands and other things on defense. Trying to get ahead and stay ahead and keep (Piddock) from driving. Know where the shooter is at all times, lots of communication and active, stay active."
While the Golden Knights couldn't close the game out, Scott was incredibly proud of what her team was able to do against one of the best girls basketball team's in Section 3. Especially considering that Copenhagen's games leading up to Thursday's showdown didn't reach the same level of competitiveness a team would like to have before playing a team like the Spartans.
"I learned that (the Golden Knights) are not only a good team, they're a really good team," Scott said of her players. "Because they don't give up, they battle, they had no fear today, coming in here. We haven't had to see that so much this season and honestly I was a little bit worried about that coming. You know, it's South Jeff, they're the basketball royalty around the area, but you know, we're not too bad. We've been there and seen that."