GLOUSTER — The Alexander Spartans were already facing a tough challenge on Monday, traveling to take on the Trimble Tomcats.
The task become more difficult when senior Kara Meeks become unavailable before the game due to an injury.
Meeks, a four-year starter, teams with senior point guard Marlee Grinstead in the Spartans’ attack.
The veteran Tomcats took advantage of the short-handed Spartans, cranking up their defensive effort in a 49-27 win at William White Gymnasium.
Without Meeks, Trimble keyed in on Grinstead and made the offensive end difficult to navigate for Alexander.
“With her out of the lineup, it takes away a lot of things,” Alexander coach Jeff Grinstead said. “It takes away our ability to score and get to the rim. We love to pick and roll with Kara. With her out, it limits us offensively.”
The Spartans (1-2) graduated four key contributors from last year’s 18-win team. With Meeks out, they started four players who are on their first year playing varsity basketball.
Compare that to the Tomcats, who start five seniors who all played heavy varsity minutes since their ninth-grade seasons.
“They have a great team,” Grinstead said of the Tomcats. “Well coached, good kids. They’re going to go a long way in the tournament. That’s why we schedule teams like this. We want to play good teams.”
Trimble coach Joe Richards said they weren’t sure about Meeks’ availability until they saw her in street clothes during warmups. They adjusted their approach on the fly.
The Tomcats (2-0) made Grinstead work all night, picking her up nearly at half court on every possession, and hounding her with a box-and-one for most of the second half.
“Just trying to wear her out, picking her up, even on possessions where they maybe scored, we’re guarding her 50, 60 feet from the basket and she has to do all that work,” Richards said. “I thought that helped us wear her down a little bit.”
The Tomcats also had the luxury of switching defenders to chase Grinstead around. Riley Campbell, Laikyn Imler, Briana Osborne or Emily Young were all taking turns accounting for Grinstead, with Jayne Six always somewhere close to the basket.
Grinstead had 11 points, nine rebounds, five assists, four steals and a blocked shot. She scored or assisted on 22 of Alexander’s 27 points.
Grinstead had four first-half assists, with three of them leading to layups. Richards admitted afterwards the Tomcats were probably too focused on Grinstead in the first half.
“Two people were coming to help on Grinstead and that left the helper open,” Richards said. “Maybe we over coached that up a little bit.”
The Tomcats were able to hold Grinstead to 3 for 16 shooting from the field though, as their variety of defensive looks and different defenders eventually took its toll.
“Offensively, everything we got we had to kick and scratch and claw for,” Jeff Grinstead said. “I know Marlee got tired. We asked a lot out of her tonight. That affects your shooting. You get tired. Your shooting is just not where it needs to be.”
The Spartans were able to hang tough, playing zone defense and slowing the game down into the third quarter.
Alexander never led, but was within 19-15 in the second quarter and 24-17 in the third quarter after Grinstead found Ava Hoffer for a basket in the post.
“I thought we did a good job defensively tonight,” Jeff Grinstead said. “We worked hard on that 2-3 zone. We like playing it, but you get behind, it’s hard to play. I know matching up defensively was going to be tough if we played man to man with Trimble.”
The Tomcats used an 11-0 third quarter run to gain separation. They were able to push the pace, as Imler found Young in transition, then Imler scored on a drive to the basket for a 29-17 lead.
Young’s steal and assist to Imler forced an Alexander timeout, Trimble leading 31-17 with 3:32 left in the third.
The Tomcats won the third quarter 13-5, using their defense to pull away.
“We got some turnovers,” Richards said. “We were in our box-and-one a little bit. We got the ball out of Marlee’s hands and got a couple cross court turnovers and we converted those.”
The Tomcats held Alexander to 23.1 percent shooting for the game — 9 for 39 — including just 3 for 21 in the second half.
The Spartans also had 24 turnovers in the game, 15 coming in the second half.
“We’ve got to figure that out,” Jeff Grinstead said. “That’s on us coaches to figure it out the next couple days.”
Young led Trimble with 15 points, four steals and three assists. Orsborne had 12 points, nine rebounds and three steals, while Six had 12 points, nine rebounds and four steals. Imler added seven points, five rebounds and two assists.
The Tri-Valley Conference openers are ahead for each team on Thursday, the Spartans hosting River Valley while the Tomcats travel to Belpre.
Alexander was able to win a thriller a year ago against Trimble. The Tomcats got some revenge on Monday and hope to continue to building toward what they hope is a special season in Glouster.
“I know it’s a new year, but you always think about last year,” Richards said. “They beat us at their place. A little revenge.
“We need to keep building that confidence in every game, and getting that win, beating a team with the basketball program Alexander has is good and we’ll keep looking for more.”
Trimble 49, Alexander 27
Alexander 9 6 5 7 — 27
Trimble 15 7 13 14 — 49
ALEXANDER 27 (1-2)
Monica Thompson 1 0-0 3, Emma Pennington 0 0-0 0, Olivia Ohms 1 2-2 5, Ava Hoffer 3 0-1 6, Marlee Grinstead 3 5-6 11, Chloe Payne 1 0-0 2, McKenna Moore 0 0-0 0, Trinity Daniels 0 0-0 0, Celene Chapman 0 0-0 0, Julianna Cain 0 0-0 0, Kaylee Johnson 0 0-0 0, Mallory Sherman 0 0-0 0; TOTALS 9 7-9 27; 3-point field goals: 2 (Thompson, Ohms 1 apiece)
TRIMBLE 49 (2-0)
Laikyn Imler 3 1-2 7, Riley Campbell 0 0-0 0, Briana Orsborne 5 1-2 12, Emily Young 6 3-5 15, Jayne Six 3 6-7 12, Lydia Beha 0 0-0 0, Jaylee Orsborne 0 0-0 0, Sophia Ives 1 0-0 3, Emily Calentine 0 0-0 0, Madaline Yuska 0 0-0 0, Ashlynn Hardy 0 0-0 0, Katelynn Coey 0 0-0 0; TOTALS 18 11-16 49; 3-point field goals: 2 (Briana Orsborne, Ives 1 apiece)
TEAM STATISTICS/INDIVIDUAL LEADERS
Field goals — Alexander 9-39 (.231), 3-point field goals 2-16 (.125); Trimble — 18-49 (.367), 3-point field goals 2-11 (.182); Free throws — Alexander 7-9 (.778), Trimble 11-16 (.688); Rebounds — Alexander 30 (Grinstead 9), Trimble 35 (Briana Orsborne, Six 9 apiece); Assists — Alexander 6 (Grinstead 5), Trimble 9 (Young 3); Blocks — Alexander 3 (Pennington 2), Trimble 4 (Young 2); Turnovers — Alexander 24, Trimble 17; Steals — Alexander 10 (Grinstead 4), Trimble 16 (Young, Six, Jaylee Orsborne 4 apiece); Team fouls — Alexander 13, Trimble 12; JV game — Trimble 34, Alexander 13.