Win or lose, Tuesday was bound to be sort of a bittersweet day for first year Seneca head girls’ basketball coach Darryl Harbaugh. Not only was he donning the red and blue of the Seneca Indians for the first time as their head coach, at the same school his kids once attended, nonetheless, but across the scorers table stood a team in black and gold — many of whom he knew well after spending eight years as a teacher and coach at Neosho High School.
“The girls were probably more nervous than I was,” Harbaugh said.
Once the game got underway, however, it was business as usual for everyone involved, and Neosho escaped with a thrilling 49-46 victory in the regular season opener at Seneca High School.
Leading 44-40 with 53 seconds left in the game, Seneca’s Elena Wood buried a 3-pointer to cut it to one point. Neosho’s Morgan Rogers followed by hitting the front end of two foul shots before teammate Whitney Wise rebounded the miss on the second shot and put it back in off the glass to give Neosho a 47-43 lead.
That shot loomed large, as Mirana Heath would bury a 3-pointer with 13 seconds left off an inbounds set to cut the deficit to 47-46. Neosho’s Chelsey Henry would later hit two free throws with 4.7 seconds remaining to make it 49-46.
Perhaps those nerves played a role in the start of the game, as the Lady Wildcats quickly jumped out to a 6-0 lead on three baskets by Brooke Stauffer early in the first quarter. Neosho’s defense was also particularly good in the early stages, holding the Lady Indians to a basket by Molli Cooper in the first quarter.
Neosho led 8-2 entering the second quarter, but the momentum quickly shifted as the Lady Indians put together a solid run which saw them take a 12-11 lead on a 3-pointer by Wood with 2:45 to go in the first half. Bailey Skelton scored eight of her 12 points in the quarter to help Seneca take an 18-17 advantage into the half.
“The girls played hard, we’ve just got to improve on free throws and scoring down inside on the paint,” Harbaugh said. “We got the ball down inside a few times and just came away with nothing. Very disappointing. There’s a lot of little things we’ve got to work on.
“But the kids played hard, that’s one thing. They went all out.”
The Lady Wildcats maintained the lead for almost the entire first half, until Seneca’s last second quarter surge helped steal some of the momentum. Credit Neosho for taking that momentum back in the third quarter and taking a 34-30 lead into the fourth quarter.
Page 2 of 2 - The Lady Wildcats grew their lead to as many as eight points (40-32) early in the fourth quarter, but the Lady Indians responded with a 7-0 run to cut it to 40-39. From there they traded blows, but never trailed.
“Darryl (Harbaugh) and I both talked after the game and we both decided it was a sloppy game on both sides,” Lady Wildcats coach Lance Robbins said. “They made a little run on us there that first half and we fought our way back in. (The Lady Indians) are a scrappy team and he does a good job with them.
“We made some key plays down there at the end of the game.”
Henry had a big day for Neosho and led all scorers with 15 points. Stauffer followed with 13 points, while Morgan Rogers added 11, Wise eight and Addi Long two.
Heath led the Lady Indians with 13 points, while Bailey Skelton added 12, Wood and Molli Cooper had seven each, Maranda Cooper four and Courtney Cook one.
Neosho (1-0) travels to Joplin to take on the Lady Eagles at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday. The Lady Indians (0-1) travel to McDonald County on Dec. 9 at 6 p.m.