Girls Basketball: Monarchs hit stride, defeat Immanuel

Exeter defeats the Immanuel Eagles 46-34 for their fourth league win thanks in large part to a productive third quarter

By Paul Myers

EXETER – Exeter got their fourth league win last Thursday when they took down Immanuel 46-34. 

Four of the Monarchs’ eight wins have come in Central Sequoia League play, a remarkable turnaround after losing eight of their first 11 games this season, including a five game losing skid heading into league.

“Right now we are playing the best team basketball we have been playing all season long,” head coach Justin Southard said.

After the first half of the season Southard and his supporting staff got together and decided they needed to make some changes if they were going to turn around their 3-8 season. Ultimately they promoted two sophomores to varsity, Ivy Miller and Kaylee Saldana. Since starting league, Exeter’s margin of defeat started to close.

“We feel like they put us over the top. Putting Selma aside we lost to CVC by three and Dinuba by three, so we are right there…we feel like we are starting to hit our stride just a little bit better,” Southard said.

Exeter’s victory over Immanuel is a big boost to Southard’s striding squad. Although, nothing was for sure when the team scored only 10 points in the first quarter against the Eagles. Fortunately for the Monarchs, they kept Immanuel off the board for the most part, all three of their first quarter points came from the free throw line. 

Things started to click for the Eagles when sophomore guard Algeria Pena started to connect on three-pointers. Exeter began to defend their lead by converting shots from the field, while Pena hit the team’s first three-pointer in the first minute of the second quarter. The Eagles hit their second a few minutes later to keep Exeter from running away with it. 

Pena finished the night with 18 points despite being held scoreless in the first quarter.

Immanuel managed to cut their deficit to five after connecting on two free throws, and then cut it further down to three when they hit an outside jump shot. But Exeter finished the half with free throws to go up 20-16. 

Southard made some important halftime adjustments and inspired his team to start running way with the game. 

“In the second quarter we let them have their run. In basketball, it’s a game of runs but it’s whether you can weather the storm and I thought we let them off the hook a little more than we should have in the second quarter,” Southard said. “I told them that we need to play like they don’t belong with you guys and that’s what they did.”

Exeter cobbled together a 15-point third quarter. Both teams went tit-for-tat early on until Pena went on to score one of her two three pointers of the quarter. Exeter’s Jaycie Wilkinson responded with a three pointer of her own, just to watch Pena hit an even deeper three-point shot to cut Exeter’s lead to one, 25-24. Immanuel’s momentum forced Exeter to call a timeout so they could regroup and slow down the Eagles.

The brief break helped Exeter get control of the game when Brooklyn Blackmon came out and hit a three pointer. Followed by two fast break baskets, Exeter managed to put together a 7-0 run to go up 32-24, and force the Eagles to take a timeout of their own with 3:02 remaining. 

Exeter’s defense managed to hold Immanuel to just another three points, which Wilkinson responded to with a buzzer beating three pointer to close out the third quarter. According to Southard, Wilkinson has made significant progress this season.

“She has been a player that has come a long way this year. Early this season she struggled to see where she fit in the puzzle because last year she played off the ball and this year we’re asking her to play more on the ball and play point guard and handle for us,” Southard said. “She’s really stepped into understanding how to see the floor better and be more communicative with me about what’s she’s seeing.”

The Monarchs started the fourth quarter in dominant fashion with a run to go up 39-27. Pena came in the clutch with two three pointers to cut Exeter’s lead to 39-34 with 4:55 left in the game. Southard called a time out to gain control of the game, and Exeter went on to respond with two fast breaks to go up by nine, before gaining full control of the game and winning 46-34.

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