By BRETT MARSHALL
CIMARRON — With 5:03 to play in Monday night's Deerfield-Cimarron opening round game of the Bluejay Invitational, the visiting Lady Spartans owned a surprising lead over the host Lady Bluejays.
Deerfield coach Doug Crandall wasn't at all surprised where the game stood, and Cimarron's David Ediger was not happy with the way his squad had played up to that point.
With both teams dominated by underclassmen — especially sophomores — it was two seniors for Cimarron — Janae Helfrich and Katelyn Ridenour — that helped rally the Lady Bluejays in the closing minutes for a 35-31 triumph to advance to Thursday's semifinal against Satanta, a 50-39 winner over Bucklin earlier.
Helfrich, a 5-foot-5 senior guard, nailed an 8-foot bank shot with 4:38 to go and a little more than a minute later Ridenour, a 5-3 guard, dropped in a 12-foot jumper to pull Cimarron within one, 28-27. That seemed to get the Lady Bluejays rolling as they reeled off the next eight points to cap off a 12-0 run and a 35-28 lead with 30 seconds left.
In between, sophomore Lindsey Wehkamp dropped in a baseline jumper and two free throws before Helfrich knocked down another 12-footer before junior Kate Lock hit a pair of charity shots to finish off the run. Deerfield sophomore Bridget Crandall drilled a three-pointer with 13 seconds left to pull within four. But it was too little, too late.
"We couldn't shoot, we couldn't get our defense to cause things to happen, but Deerfield played hard," Ediger said. "They are disciplined, they execute things pretty well and defended us well."
In the low-scoring battle, Deerfield held a 5-2 first quarter lead and saw that whittled to one, 12-11, at intermission.
"We played great defense," coach Crandall said. "We move the ball better and the girls are working hard and doing what I ask of them. I thought they handled Cimarron's pressure pretty well. We're still young and I know we're going to get better."
The Lady Spartans were still clinging to a 25-23 lead after three periods thanks to the sophomore Crandall's seven points, including another of her three treys. When she hit one of two free throws with 7:19 to go in the game and Danielle Pettz knocked down a 17-foot jump shot, the Lady Spartans had their five-point advantage and had Cimarron on the ropes.
"I'm disappointed (in the loss) but encouraged by our play," the Deerfield coach said. "We've got to start learning how to win these games instead of just coming close, but we're getting there."
Ediger, on the other hand, was not surprised that his two seniors rose to the occasion.
"We kind of hit the panic button with our young kids and both the seniors can shoot the ball and they finally got them to drop," Ediger said. "We got the lead early, then gave it right back, time after time. We executed like zero tonight."
And, much like his counterpart at Deerfield, Ediger said his youthful squad is still learning about varsity basketball.
"They're not strangers to winning, but they've not had the varsity experience," Ediger said. "They're key players for us and are going to have to learn to step up. We won and I'm not going to feel bad about it, that's the bottom line. Win, and move on, and learn."
Helfrich scored a game-high 16 points to lead the Lady Bluejays (2-0) while sophomore Mariah Smith led Deerfield (0-3) with 15 and Crandall added 14.
Girls action will resume Thursday when Dighton and South Gray meet at 6 p.m. in a semifinal rematch of a year ago as well as a rematch of last year's Class 1A state tournament semifinal, won by South Gray. Cimarron and Satanta will tip-off at approximately 7:30 p.m. In the consolation bracket games Thursday, Meade faces Healy at 3 p.m. and Deerfield takes on Bucklin at 4:30.
Championship and consolation games are to be played on Saturday.
Cimarron 35, Deerfield 31
Deerfield 5 7 13 6 — 31
Cimarron 2 9 12 13 — 35
Deerfield (0-3) — Pettz 1 0-0 2, Soto 0 0-0 0, Crandall 5 1-3 14, Novack 0 0-0 0, Vides 0 0-2 0, Morgan 0 0-0 0, Hernandez 0 0-0 0, Smith 7 1-2 15. Totals 13 2-7 31.
Cimarron (2-0) — Burns 1 0-1 2, Payne 0 0-0 0, Siek 0 0-0 0, Lock 0 2-2 2, Dupree 0 0-0 0, Bryant 3 0-0 6, Wehkamp 1 3-4 5, Ridenour 2 0-0 4, Helfrich 8 0-2 16. Totals 15 5-9 35.
3-point field goals — Deerfield (Crandall 3), Cimarron (none). Total fouls — Deerfield 17, Cimarron 14. Fouled out — none.