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Teams say rebounding, defense crucial in cross-town shootout

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By Paul Gable

Grant County girls' basketball player Sarah Johnson knows what is at stake when the Lady Braves roll out the red carpet for cross-town rival Williamstown at 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 14th.

Johnson missed last year's game with a knee injury, however, she is part of a three-member senior class to never lose to the Lady Demons. Grant County has won six straight games in the rivalry.

"I am pretty excited about getting out there. It's been a while since I played them. Last year's game was one of the hardest to sit through and watch knowing I could not do anything about it," Johnson said.

In addition to Johnson, fellow classmates Salena McIntosh and Bethany Hopperton have enjoyed success over Williamstown during their career.

"It would be good to beat them. Both teams are getting better. We know it's a district game, it's a rival and we always play intense against them," McIntosh said.

The Lady Braves enter the game 0-1 in the district race, along with Williamstown, but McIntosh said that there is no added pressure on this game.

It's not as big now as it would be later because we haven't played Walton-Verona yet, but it would be good to get that first district win," she said.

A season ago, Grant County swept Williamstown by scores of 76-40 and 56-40. In the second game, Hopperton and current junior Candace Gorby combined for 29 points.

Hopperton said while it would be nice to beat the Lady Demons again, she knows it will be a fight.

"It is always a tough game because of the rivalry. It's a big game in terms of the district seedings, and we will play our hardest and to the best of our ability," she said.

In the 56-40 game a year ago, Gorby finished with 13 points and says that success against Williamstown is all in Grant County's head.

"We are a smart team. We have to keep our heads up and play hard. The game feels like it is the same as the others we have played," Gorby said.

On the other end of the rivalry, the Lady Demons will be looking for their first victory since the 2003-04 when Williamstown defeated Grant County 40-35 and 30-17. A year earlier, Williamstown defeated Grant County 75-33 and 51-20.

"I am excited. We're playing good as a team, and we have played together for a while and have had the same coach, which I think are advantages. It would be awesome to beat them, especially with the game being a district seed game," Williamstown freshman Tori Wilhoit said.

Williamstown's lone starting senior, Julie Knarr, knows how special a win would be, especially since it would propel the Lady Demons to 1-1 in the district race.

"It is a district game, and we will come out and play our hardest and hopefully, we will win. It would be nice to get a win, and hopefully we will not be the fourth seed in the district," Knarr said.

Junior Jaclyn Stith enters the game with three straight double doubles and agrees with Wilhoit that the Lady Demons' experience is a key factor.

"We have been together for a while and are older, and I think we'll play better because of that. I don't know the last time we beat them, but it would feel really good to finally beat them," Stith said.

Keys to Victory

Members of both teams maintain that the winner of the game is going to be whoever wins the rebounding category.

However, both teams have rebounded the basketball well thus far, making rebounds a premium Friday night.

"They're small for their size, so we should look inside to the post and we should be able to rebound the basketball," Johnson said.

Gorby also said that the Lady Braves will have to impose their will inside the paint.

"We have to be tough inside, and we have to have the mind frame that we will be as tough as any other team we will play," she said.

While Williamstown is not a tall team, Wilhoit said that the Lady Demons should be able to use their quickness to their benefit, along with their ability to box out and play together.

"Hopefully, we will start clicking. We have to play good defense and hit our shots," Knarr said.

Following Friday's game, the two teams will meet again Jan. 25 at Williamstown.