Wildcats ride strong play in middle quarters to win

Taylor Johnson of Fruita pulls down a rebound over Bella Castleton of Palisade at Pal. Fruita won.

Sarah Hensley didn’t appear to be much of a 3-point shooter at the start of Fruita Monument’s game Wednesday night against Palisade.

Hensley missed four 3-pointers in the first quarter, glancing one shot after another off the rim. When Hensley’s fifth 3-point attempt went in, the Wildcats’ offense started to click.

Fruita Monument (1-0) outscored Palisade 12-3 in the second quarter on its way to a 47-31 victory at Palisade (0-1, 0-0 Western Slope League).

“It is awesome to come back from a slump,” said Hensley, who finished 3 of 8 from 3-point range. “I started to get some confidence in my shot and once that happened, I knew I was going to make it.”

Hensley was not alone in taking long-range shots. The Wildcats shot 20 3-pointers, making five of them.

“We want to shoot a lot of 3s,” Fruita Monument coach Dan Schmalz said. “We want to make a lot of 3s and you can’t make them if you don’t shoot them.”

The advantage of the strategy for Fruita is that it opens up the paint for the post players to get rebounding position. Sophomore Taylor Johnson was the beneficiary of the strategy Wednesday. The 5-foot-11 center had an impressive varsity debut, finishing with a double-
double — 10 points and 11 rebounds. She also had three blocks.

“We have a lot of good shooters, so I like to be down there to rebound,” Johnson said.

The addition of Johnson will help returning All-Southwestern League player Mary McGee
down low. McGee had seven points and eight rebounds Wednesday, but more important than her offensive play was her defense on Palisade’s Holly Odneal. McGee was able to hold
Odneal to three points in the first half. Odneal got the best of the battle in the second half, scoring 15 points to finish with 18 points and eight rebounds.

“I expecting it to be fun to play against (McGee),” Odneal said. “I was happy with the fourth quarter, but we wish we could have played a full game.”

The Bulldogs couldn’t overcome their rough first half. First-year head coach Toni Gunther looks to the shooting percentage as one of the main culprits of the Bulldogs’ low point total.

“We have to get better at shooting and free throws. We took the shots we wanted, they didn’t fall. We have to work on hitting those bunnies and getting those in,” Gunther said. “But I like our effort. We never said die.”

Palisade shot 23 percent from the field and wasn’t much better from the free-throw line, hitting only 7 of 23 shots.

The Wildcats also struggled from the field at times, but were able to separate themselves with a few runs in the second and third quarters. Fruita outscored the Bulldogs 31-16 in the two quarters, leading to the easy win.

“We did some really good things,” Schmalz said. “We struggled once in a while, but overall I am pretty happy with our execution.”

Palisade is off until the Wildcat Invitational, which begins next Thursday. Fruita plays Fairview on Friday at home.


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