By BEN HANNEMAN
The first part of last Friday’s game between the Pulaski County Lady Cougars and the Blacksburg Lady Bruins belonged to seniors Jordan Chrisley and Kelli Duncan.
In a fitting tribute to Coach Jason Grubb’s only two upperclassmen, one active and the other sidelined by an ACL injury nearly a year ago, both were introduced in a pre-game ceremony and escorted to center court by parents and honored with a flower bouquets, hugs and appreciative applause.
Then, in a pre-arranged but nonetheless heartwarming gesture, Duncan, sporting a brace on her leg, scored the only basket of her senior year on an uncontested layup on an assist from – you guessed it – Chrisley. By the way, Jordan finished her final home game with four points, three on her first shot of the second half.
“It was a special night for Jordan and Kelli,” Grubb said. “They’ve been with us for five years really because they’d been with us since eighth grade, so it was nice to see them honored tonight. I’m sure it was an emotional night for them.”
After the Bruins were allowed an uncontested layup of their own the Cougars, no doubt inspired to play well for their senior teammates, put together arguably the best first quarter of the year, edging Blacksburg, 11-10 in the opening quarter.
“The first quarter was a little more complete tonight because we played pretty good defense, rebounded okay and then made some shots,” Grubb said.
From there, though, the night belonged to the future of Cougar basketball to an extent but primarily to Blacksburg. In the second quarter the Bruins, who struggled offensively in the first period, won the quarter 12-5 mostly because Pulaski couldn’t throw the ball in the proverbial ocean from the boat.
“We just couldn’t score. I think we shot 20 percent,” Grubb said. “We were shooting things soft. All of our shots were short and we talked at halftime about putting a little bit more on them and get them up. Who knows? That could be a confidence thing, that could be a vision thing, that could be an attrition, thing, I don’t know.”
Freshman Meredith Mitchell, in her second game back from a nose injury, did manage to get loose on the Bruins in the first half for nine points, seven in the first quarter. She finished with a team-high 15 points.
Second-chance shots by the Bruins and missed shots under the basket hurt the Cougars after the break. Blacksburg outscored Pulaski 16-12, making seven of 14 shots from the floor the entire quarter. At the free throw line the Bruins were two of three.
“We’re not a consistent rebounding team yet,” Grubb said. “Sometimes we go at it hard and other times it seems like we forget how to do it. We’re going to have to have more consistent effort on the boards before we can improve.”
The Cougars poured on the intensity in the fourth quarter pulling within three points on a Maegan Memitt steal with just over a minute remaining.
“Maegan had a really nice game. She did a lot of good things for us tonight. She had some steals and picked up some quality rebounds. She’s an aggressive player and did well,” Grubb said.
However, free throws, two by Blacksburg’s Katie Meller and one by Chrisley made it a four-point game with 0:38 left, but free throws and a steal with 16 second left soon gave the Bruins their final double-digit lead.
Nevertheless, Grubb wasn’t begrudging his team anything.
“We played them better this time than we did last time. We had a player out sick tonight, but hopefully by the time we see them again (perhaps in the district tournament) we’ll be at full force and ready to go get a victory,” he said.
Asked about a memorable moment from Duncan’s career, Grubb chuckled.
“There are so many Kelli moments,” Grubb said.
The one he’ll remember most, what he called “the Kelli moment,” was in a game last year in which she briefly channeled her inner softball catcher in a nail-biter against Christiansburg.
“They were making a run at us and the game got closer than it should have. We were up five with about 10 second to play,” Grubb said.
Subbing in for the purpose of making a long pass on an inbound play after a Christiansburg basket, Duncan noticed Sydney Anderson sprinting toward the basket all alone and reared back to heave the ball down to the all-stater.
“We set a screen for (Anderson) and she was wide open and sprinting. She turned around to look just knowing the ball was going to be there. Kelli threw it and it hit the rafters and bounced back. The Christiansburg girl shot a three-pointer that just rimmed out. I was furious then, but now it’s something we can sit back and laugh about because we won the game, but it was close.”
Grubb also mentioned Duncan’s fiercely competitive nature.
“She’s always been an intense competitor. She plays hard and she just a fun kid to have in the locker room,” he said.
As for Chrisley, Grubb recalled one of her first varsity games as a sophomore.
“She’s had a lot of big moments, but she scored 14 points for us in her first varsity game as a 10th grader. She’s the type of player that when she’s on fire she’s on fire. But she’s had a number of moments that have been so important to us,” Grubb said.
Despite the loss, Grubb was proud the team honored his upperclassmen in their final game by playing in similar fashion.
“They’ve been a big part of this program and they’ve always played with intensity. They always get after it on the court. They play with a lot of hustle, desire and effort and we knew that to honor them we needed to play that way tonight. I think that we delivered that in many ways,” Grubb said.
The Cougars close out the regular season against Salem Tuesday. The River Ridge District tournament begins Monday, February 11.