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Couch hits cruise control, breezes to Winter Classic crown

Thursday, January 25, 2007

It really wasn't supposed to be this easy.

But easy it was.

Heading into their matchup with Ellington in the finals of the 33rd annual Thayer Winter Classic Jan. 19, an easy victory was probably the last thing on the minds of the Couch Lady Indians.

After all, the fourth-seeded Lady Whippets had averaged 73 points a game in making it through the first two rounds of the tournament, and a night earlier, Ellington's hot-shooting Rachel Roberts had racked up a game-high 32 points in a five-point double overtime win over the top-seeded Alton Lady Comets.

But in the championship game it was all Couch, as the second-seeded Lady Indians hammered Ellington 68-46 to claim the top prize in the annual tourney.

Defense was the handle that turned the crank for Couch, as the Lady Indians held Ellington 27 points below what it had been scoring in the tourney, and more importantly, Couch kept Roberts from getting off, holding her to 14 points on the night.

Another thing that probably worked to Couch's favor was the two extra periods that Ellington had to fight through just 24 hours earlier to upset Alton. Weary legs caught up to Ellington in the second half, as Couch held the Lady Whippets scoreless for the first 4:30 of the fourth period, with the Lady Indians up 58-36 at that point.

Although Couch enjoyed a 30-23 advantage at intermission, the lady Indians pulled away in the third period, building a lead that Ellington just could not match.

Couch went on an 11-3 run to open the third period, a run started by a jumper from Tara Combs. Combs paced Couch with a game-high 24 points on the night.

Lorra Wicker (seven points) added a free throw to keep the spurt going and Kandy York (14 points) chipped in with six straight points for the Lady Indians.

At the end of the third period, Couch had extended this lead to 51-36, enough of a cushion to cruise to victory in the fourth.

Kassi Burr tallied seven points for Couch, while Whitney Mills added six, and Jessica Jones five. Sara Smiedala and Shany Collins finished with two points each.

In semi-final action, the Lady Indians did something that few teams have been able to accomplish in the recent past -- defeat the Thayer Lady Bobcats three times in one year.

But that's just what Couch did, sliding past third-seeded Thayer 59-50 Jan. 18.

The contest was fairly tight throughout the first three periods of play before the Lady Indians pulled away late.

With Couch on top 36-33 after three, the Lady Indians managed to build on this margin and took their biggest lead of the night, nine points, with 1:30 left to play.

Thayer kept chipping away and pulled within three, 53-50, with 18 seconds left to play.

But the Lady Indians refused to budge, with Traci Murdock (two points), Combs (17 points) and Wicker (10 points) all hitting big free throws in the game's last few seconds to seal the deal.

Wicker's charity toss came with just a couple of ticks remaining. She hit the first of her two shots from the free throw line, missed the second but grabbed the rebound and stuck it back in as time expired to set the final nine-point margin of victory for Couch.

Couch led 8-7 after the first period, with Micah Stevens getting off to a good start for Thayer by posting five of her squad's seven points in the frame. Stevens finished the first half of play with 14 points, on her way to a game-high 21.

The Lady Cats erased Couch's lead in the second, as Thayer moved in front by five points before the Lady Indians pulled within three, 23-20, at intermission.

Couch moved in front to stay in the third, thanks to a 9-0 run. Mills (15 points) had a productive eight minutes in the third by tossing in nine points for the Lady Indians.

A 3-ball from Mills late in the frame pushed Couch in front 34-28 before Thayer closed the stanza with a flurry.

In the last 12 seconds of the third, Krysta Adams (13 points) nailed a trey and Stevens hit a jumper to edge Thayer within three, 36-33, after three.

Couch kept churning in the fourth and finished with a nine-point win over Thayer.

York tallied 13 points for the Lady Indians, while Burr added five.

Chelsey Cabrales finished with seven points for Thayer, while April Risner added five. Kristen Earls and Hope Hunt hit for two points apiece for the Lady Cats.

In opening-round play, Couch topped seventh-seeded Koshkonong for the second time in a week, this time with a 65-46 victory Jan. 15.

The Lady Indians held Koshkonong scoreless in the first period to take an 18-0 lead after one.

Couch extended this to 39-12 at the half on its way to a big win.

York and Jones paced Couch with 12 points each, while Combs added nine. Murdock and Mills logged seven points apiece, with Wicker adding six. Courtney Redus and Burr finished with three points each, while Aminta Garrison and Collins logged two points apiece. Sadee Risner and Emily Bridges finished with one point each for Couch.

The Lady Bobcats advanced out of the first round with a 57-35 win over the sixth-seeded Liberty Lady Eagles Jan. 15.

It was all Lady Cats in the last two periods of play, as Thayer outscored Liberty 33-12 in the second half for a 22-point win.

Stevens posted a game-high 22 points, while Adams added 14, and Risner eight. Kaley Herbert finished with seven, Cabrales three, and Earls two. Sara Riley tallied one point.



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