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Merriman delivers spark for Pioneers

By Greg Brill – sports@nvdaily.com

FRONT ROYAL — Lisa Merriman tried to do the best she could filling some big shoes in Millbrook’s lineup.

Given a starting assignment Friday night at Skyline in place of Sara Mead, who missed the game due to a death in her family, Merriman had to do a little extra. That included leading the offense at times and providing a defensive spark when that was needed.

Her five points scored might not have turned many heads, but the three steals and three assists Merriman had were more than enough to provide a lift in a 70-38 Northwestern District win for the Pioneers.

Afterward, Merriman’s coach certainly felt, given the situation, that the junior guard did quite well.

“[Mead’s] the speed up top that gets us going, and Lisa’s very good at running the point — it’s just two different caliber of players,” Millbrook coach Debby Sanders said. “Lisa probably knows everybody’s positions better than anyone on the team knows them. Lisa knows the ins-and-outs of the offense, and she did just fine. It was a change of pace for the girls, but they adjusted.”

Mead is just one part of a three-part scoring machine that has accounted for nearly 75 percent of Millbrook’s scoring. The Group AA No. 1 ranked Pioneers (15-0, 4-0) still got their usual production from juniors Courtni Green and Alisha Mobley to leave the outcome in safe hands.

After she missed her first three shots, Green just weaved her way through Skyline’s rugged defense to attack the basket for a game-high 32 points. She made 10-of-19 shots from the field, 11-of-15 free throws, and collected game-highs of nine steals and four assists.

“I knew I had to help out a little bit more since Sara wasn’t here,” Green said. “She’s a good defender and good scorer. I just had to pick it up.”

Mobley also was strong, smashing inside to score 21 points and notch a game-high eight rebounds. Perhaps Mobley’s biggest contribution was the job she did against Skyline’s top post player, Oshene Kelly.

The Hawks had a hard time finding Kelly in the paint or on the blocks, and the junior took just four shots and was held to five points. Kelly was kept off the glass as well, limited to five boards.

“I thought Alisha took over for stretches of the game,” Sanders said. “Just her hustle — taking Oshene out of the game — because Kelly’s been playing well for Skyline. I thought it was huge. We knew they would run those pick-and-rolls, but the key was to keep Alisha out of foul trouble [Mobley had just two fouls] and keeping Oshene out of [the post].”

As has been the case in more recent games, Skyline’s leading scorer on the season, junior guard Taylor Henry, had to carry the scoring load. On Wednesday, Henry scored half of Skyline’s points — 25 of 50 — in a double-digit loss to Central. Henry again was the lone Hawk who consistently attacked the basket Friday, leading Skyline (10-5, 0-2) with 21 points.

“They might have been missing [Mead], but they still had ‘Millbrook’ across their jerseys,” Skyline coach Jim Kenney said. “What they do defensively we really can’t replicate in practice because as soon as you catch the ball, someone’s there. They don’t allow you to dribble-drive, and we knew that. We said we had to maintain possessions and we had [40] turnovers.”

Besides Green, Mobley and Danielle Banks each had six steals as Millbrook collected 27 as a team.

A drive by Henry gave Skyline its biggest lead of the night at 7-3 with 4:40 left in the first period. From there, the Pioneers scored the last 13 points of the quarter and the first three of the second to go on a 16-0 run.

“We just had to be smart with the ball and stop throwing it away,” Green said. “We picked it up. We talked during a timeout and got it back together.”

Even though she topped the 30-point mark, Green did not get her first points until she hit a pull-up jumper in the lane at the 2:36 mark of the first period to tie the game for the last time at 7.

Green also helped the Pioneers close the first half with an eight-point run to take a 34-17 lead. Green had 16 points by the break and added the same number in the second half, including 13 in the third quarter.

The Hawks tried to make Green work for her points, giving her various looks and trying to body-up on her when she began her pursuit to the basket.

“They did a pretty good job of staying with me,” Green said. “Sometimes, I guess they got lost, but I thought for most of the game they were trying hard and they stuck with me.”

On the other side of the bench, Skyline spent the entire halftime coming up with a plan to get back into the game. The Hawks returned straight to the court after they reappeared to start the third quarter, and Ashley Thomas made a nice backdoor cut to receive a pass from Kristina Salazar for the first points of the second half.

For much of the third, Skyline kept its deficit down under 20 points until the Pioneers, who did not press full-court at any point in the game, began getting more turnovers and converting on the other end. Millbrook scored 10 of the third period’s final 12 points to finally put the game on ice.