Wyoming-bound guard too much for Central
Whether she played inside or outside, there was no down side to Natalie Baker’s game in the first half Thursday.
The 6-foot Chaparral High School senior who is headed to the University of Wyoming to play guard next year lit up Central for 24 points as the Wolverines’ girls basketball team triumphed 55-43 during the first day of the Wildcat Invitational.
Baker scored 20 points in the first half, including 13 in the first quarter, and she did it in a variety of ways: layups on fast breaks, putbacks of missed shots, short jumpers and both of Chaparral’s 3-pointers.
Central coach Mary Doane said the obvious difference in the game was Baker.
“They have a kid who’s going to Wyoming; we don’t,” said Doane, whose squad has one senior.
Doane said her team also “got ourselves in a little bit of a hole,” referring to deficits of 23-12 in the second quarter, 29-18 at the half and 45-27 after three quarters.
Baker’s do-a-little-of-everything performance is new to her as she has been asked to be the team’s leader this season, which started with two losses prior to the Wolverines’ win Thursday. She’s one of only two seniors this year for Chaparral, which comes off a season in which it finished 19-6 and reached the final eight in the Class 5A state playoffs.
Last year’s team had other stars, though, and Baker understands she has a new role and must play “wherever she feels that she’s needed,” Wolverines coach Tony Speights said. “She’s willing to fill in the gaps until the other players get to where they need to be.”
Baker’s big first half didn’t surprise Speights, as he added, “That can be her. Tonight’s probably the most assertive she’s been this year. ... She’s still kind of learning to be that kid that goes out and gets 20 to 25 (points) every night.”
Countering with a good night for Central was Tyler Hays, who made four 3-pointers and finished with a team-high 20 points, and Doane commended her for her all-around game.
Speights also took notice, adding, “She’s a real nice player. We lost sight of her late.”
He was referring to the fourth quarter in which Hays scored seven points, including a 3-pointer with 1 minute, 38 seconds remaining and a pull-up jumper with 58 seconds left to cut the deficit to 53-43.
Hays’ burst served as a lesson for the Wolverines’ defenders to never lose sight of such a good shooter, Speights said.
Cassidy Bryant added 13 points for the Warriors, doing her damage under the basket and at the free-throw line.
“She battles underneath,” Doane said.
Bryant scored baskets on three straight possessions in the second quarter as Central cut the deficit to 25-18 with 2:15 left in the half.
For other bright spots, Doane said sophomore Brooklyn Botts and freshman Sierra Batchelor did a good job of handling the ball on offense, and they were part of the perimeter defense that slowed Baker in the second half.
The loss dropped Central to 0-4, but Doane said her young team is improving.
“They’re battling,” she said. “They’re doing their best.”