ALBANY — The Jackson Ironladies played a nearly flawless first half, and it proved to be enough to hang on for a big road victory.
Jackson stopped a late Alexander rally on Monday, defeating the Spartans 51-43 at Alexander High School.
The Ironladies built up a 20-point lead in the first half, making 13 of their first 14 shots from the field.
“Defensively we did not execute the way we normally do in the first half, that’s for sure,” Alexander coach Jeff Grinstead said. “I felt like they did a good job at trying to take advantage of mismatches, probably better than anybody we’ve played this year. They did a good job of that.”
Jackson’s sophomore center Kenzie Davis was the main culprit early on against Alexander. Davis scored Jackson’s first 10 points, finishing with 14 points in the opening quarter alone.
The Ironladies (9-4) simply didn’t miss, leading 18-7 after one quarter after making eight out of nine shots from the field.
They made their first four shots of the second quarter, leading 29-12 after Katelyn Webb scored on a drive to the basket.
Jackson’s lead was 32-12 after Sydney Hughes’ 3-pointer late in the second quarter.
The Ironladies shot 77.7 percent (14 of 18) from the field in the first half to lead 32-15.
“I told the girls in the locker room, they’re not going to do that in the second half,” Grinstead said. “They’re going to cool off. We’re going to be fine. We just have to put our heads down and get after it defensively and hope we can put the ball in the hole.”
The Ironladies continued to lead 38-19 after two Mattie Walburn free throws with 5:24 to play in the third quarter.
Alexander’s comeback started there, going on a 13-1 run to trail 39-32 after Kara Meeks opened the fourth quarter with a field goal.
“I just felt like the girls needed to see the ball go in the hole a couple of times,” Grinstead said. “And on the other end, see them (Jackson) not doing it. I thought we did a lot better job in the second half. I feel like most of their points came at the free throw line, a lot of them.”
Jackson only made two field goals in the fourth, but went eight for 12 from the free throw line, with Webb being the leader.
She scored seven points in the fourth quarter, making five of her eight free throw attempts.
Alexander’s run climaxed at 24-9, trailing just 47-43 after Olivia Ohms’ left-wing 3-pointer with 2:58 to play.
“Our kids kind of stirred the energy up,” Grinstead said. “Once we got it down to eight or nine points, I felt like we had given ourselves a chance. I’m proud of the kids for not giving up the second half. They battled. That’s who we are. We’re not going to quit.”
The Spartans (6-7) weren’t able to get any closer. Ohms missed a 3-pointer on their next possession that could have cut Jackson’s lead to a single point.
The Ironladies pushed ahead 49-43 on two Walburn free throws with 2:03 remaining, and 50-43 with 51.3 seconds left after T.J. Carpenter split a pair of free throws.
Alexander was held scoreless for the final 2:58, Jackson’s final point coming on Webb’s free throw with 32.0 seconds remaining.
“Those empty possessions, we had three or four late where we really could have closed the gap,” Grinstead said. “We couldn’t capitalize on them.”
The Ironladies’ defense as focused on containing Meeks and Marlee Grinstead, nothing new for the Spartans this season.
“They played a defense like we see from time to time where they guard Marlee and Kara and they leave everyone else in the paint,” Jeff Grinstead said. “Sometimes they leak out on (Ohms) a little bit to keep her from shooting open 3s and the other two just stay in the paint. So we can’t get a dribble drive in there. We had a hard time getting anything going offensively.”
Meeks and Grinstead each finished with 15 points. Grinstead added nine rebounds, six steals and six assists. Emma Pennington also scored six points for Alexander.
The Ironladies did cool off — they were 4 for 20 from the field after their torrid start. They still were 50 percent overall, making 17 of 34 from the field with nine assists.
Davis led the way with 17 points on 7 for 12 shooting and two blocked shots. Carpenter had 12 points on 4 of 6 shooting with three assists. Walburn finished with 10 points on 3 of 5 shooting.
Webb, the smallest player on the court at 5-feet, led Jackson with eight rebounds to go along with nine points and five assists.
“Jackson’s got a good team,” Jeff Grinstead said. “Those kids have played together forever. (Jackson coach) Matt (Walburn) does a good job coaching them. They’ve won a lot of games this year.”
Alexander has lost four out of five games, but is still in a first-place tie with Nelsonville-York and Vinton County in the Tri-Valley Conference Ohio Division. The Spartans return to the court on Thursday at River Valley.
The Spartans have hit a bump in the road in the middle of the season, but still have plenty to play for down the stretch.
“The league stuff’s still all there,” Jeff Grinstead said. “We still have the tournament. Everything is still there for us. We’ve lost a few games looking back that we probably could have won or should have won. We just have to do a better job offensively and we can’t dig a hole like we did tonight.
“We have a lot to work on,” he added. “We’re not going to give up. We’re going to keep fighting, keep working hard. Hopefully we can turn this thing around.”