COLFAX — Baxter’s girls’ basketball program prides itself on playing tough defense and rebounding.
But it was Colfax-Mingo which was doing those things better in the first half of their non-conference game on Monday night.
The Tigerhawks scored all 14 of their points in the first quarter from inside the lane. They built a first-half lead, battled back from a narrow deficit in the second half and held off the Bolts 41-38 at home on Senior Night.
“We had to rebound tonight,” Colfax-Mingo coach Blake Warrick said. “There posts are aggressive. We knew that was going to be key. Kyra (Lester) and Avery (Rague) did a great job on the glass.”
McKenzie Eslinger had her way inside the lane for the Bolts, finishing with a game-high 20 points.
But Lester and Rague held their own on the boards for the Tigerhawks. And most of Colfax-Mingo’s 27 first-half points came on layups or buckets inside the paint.
“We got outplayed in the first half,” Baxter assistant coach Kenny Ramus said. “We dug ourselves too big of a hole. We had a come to Jesus meeting at halftime and we played much better in the second half.”
Kyra Lester scored all eight of her points in the first half as the Tigerhawks (7-14) built a 14-6 lead after one and a 27-18 lead at halftime.
Avery Rague had four of her six points in the first quarter. Colfax-Mingo’s offense consisted of strong drives to the rim or putbacks inside the lane.
Lester had eight points and eight rebounds in the win, while Rague tallied six points and eight boards.
Caylee Cunningham hit a 3-pointer for C-M to open the second quarter, but Lester and Carley Underwood combined to score eight more points in the lane to push the lead to nine after two.
Eslinger controlled the inside at the other end for Baxter (12-9). She scored 13 of her 20 points in the first half.
“It was a matchup thing. They couldn’t stop her,” Ramus said of getting the ball to Eslinger inside. “We have to work better at getting it inside and get it to her until they stop her.”
Baxter’s Caitlyn Bruntz came into the game averaging a team-best 12 points per game. She was held scoreless in the first half but scored all nine of her points in the third as the Bolts began their rally.
Bruntz finished with nine points in the loss.
“We put Abbey (McConeghey) on her. Abbey is quick and good on defense,” Warrick said. “(Caitlyn) got a few on us in the second half, but she is going to. She’s good.”
All four of her baskets in the third cut C-M’s lead to six. Eslinger scored on back-to-back possessions to cut the margin to four after three frames.
“We struggled inside with our post defense,” Warrick said. “That’s been something we’ve struggled with and we have to get better at it moving forward.”
The first six points of the fourth went to Baxter as the Bolts went in front 36-35 on a bucket inside by Eslinger.
A Rague layup tied the game at 37-all and Abbey McConeghey’s layup put the home team back in front. Eslinger hit 1-of-2 from the line to make it 39-38 with 58 seconds to play.
The Bolts had the ball with less than 30 seconds to play and a chance to take the lead but Lilie Vansice’s drive to the rim was unsuccessful. And Underwood buried two free throws at the other end with 16 seconds left to seal the win for the Tigerhawks.
Underwood led Colfax-Mingo with 12 points and three steals.
Baxter had only three team fouls late in the fourth quarter. The Bolts had to foul to get the ball back but used precious seconds off the clock until C-M got into the bonus.
Lester missed the front end of a one-and-one with 33.7 seconds to go and Baxter got the ball back with a chance to win it but was unable to score.
“We had plenty of time and had the ball with a chance to win,” Ramus said. “We just couldn’t score.”
Cunningham had five points and three rebounds for C-M. McConeghey, C-M’s lone senior, chipped in four points, four steals and two assists and Brennan Rhone added four points, four rebounds and two blocks.
Eslinger and Bruntz combined for 29 of the Bolts’ 38 points. Holly Jessen had four points and Sadie Meyer scored three.
It was Baxter’s fourth straight loss. Colfax-Mingo has won three straight.
Since going 14-6 in the 2007-08 season, Colfax-Mingo has only reached seven wins twice. The Tigerhawks were 7-15 in 2017-18 and are now 7-14 this season.
The Bolts open Class 1A postseason action against BGM at 7 p.m. on Thursday in Baxter.
Colfax-Mingo begins 2A regional play against Pella Christian at 5 p.m. on Saturday in Colfax.