Naylor headed to quarterfinals in 'Senior Season'

BLOOMFIELD - With under a minute left and Naylor up by double digits, the roughly three dozen strong in the Naylor student section started chanting "Senior Season" as the team's only senior Faith Sullivan stepped to the foul line.

With one senior and longtime basketball and softball coach Gene Deckard entering retirement after this school year, "Senior Season" has been a theme since September.

Seven months later their senior year is still going strong as Naylor is one win away from one last trip to state.

"It feels great, never gets old. Hopefully these girls, they have a taste of it now. Coming back, only losing one, hopefully, they come back with a vengeance next year," said Deckard, who was given at the beginning of the school year a shirt that said "Senior Season" by the softball team, which has many of the same girls as the basketball team.

The Eagles beat Delta 64-50 on Tuesday in Bloomfield in the MSHSAA Class 1 sectional and will play South Iron, which beat Norwood by two points, at 1 p.m. Saturday in Van Buren with the boys' quarterfinal to follow.

Naylor previously finished second in Class 1 basketball in 2015 and 2016. Naylor also finished fourth in 2010, and in softball, finished third in 2009 and second in 2012.

"They're playing hard and they guard hard ... It is a team effort. Balanced scoring, all seven kids have been the leading scorer at some point in the year. It makes us hard to guard," Deckard said.

Added Delta coach David Heeb, who also has just one senior on a young team, "We're losing a good one. Gene Deckard has been a good coach for a long time. When you play his teams, you know what you are going to get. Good defense, they are going to take a lot of charges, they are going to be physical, they are going to block out."

Naylor (19-9) never trailed after getting a stellar start from Danielle Shepard. The sophomore forward, averaging 11 points per game, scored 11 of Naylor's 14 points in the first quarter and finished with 15.

"Danielle is capable of getting in there, she is pretty strong and putting some points on the board. We've been shooting free throws better as of late and that always helps," Deckard said.

Tied at two, which was the only time Naylor didn't have the lead, Shepard got a pair of free throws and a basket on the next possession.

Ebby Moman, who led Naylor with 16 points, scored, then Shepard added two more free throws and subbed out to cap an eight-point run by the Eagles.

Delta (18-10) countered after its only senior Coley Blattel got a three-point play and Kendall Holweg, who had 23 points including 10 in the third quarter, made a 3 to cut the lead to two points.

McKenzie Crofford came off the Naylor bench and made one of her three 3-pointers before Shepard subbed back in and made one more free throw to give Naylor a 14-10 lead after the first quarter.

Naylor led by five midway through the second quarter and doubled its lead over a 2-minute stretch to take the first double-digit lead with under 3 minutes left in the half, and went into the halftime locker room ahead 28-19.

Delta went to a full-court, man-to-man press to start the second half after playing a zone in the first half and got two quick baskets and two quick turnovers in the opening minute.

After Shepard scored for the Eagles, Delta's Ashley White, who had 17 points, got a three-point play and Holweg finished a three-on-two break that cut Naylor's lead to four points.

The Bobcats cut the lead to two points twice. The second time it happened, Deckard called a timeout and subbed an extra guard onto the floor.

"We lost communication about whose man that was. They got one or two cheap easy buckets, kind of stopped the bleeding so to speak, and in a game like this, that's all it takes sometimes," Heeb said.

Crofford made a 3 with 4 minutes left in the third quarter, putting Naylor ahead by five, and Sullivan followed with a layup after the Eagles beat the press.

With 2 minutes left, Hattie Day caught a pass on the block, backed into the lane and scored to rebuild Naylor's 10-point lead.

"We didn't get on the board there for a little bit, gave up a couple of offensive rebounds. They came out with a gameplan, we adjusted a little bit, made a run of our own and got it squared back out to double digits and I think we held it from then on," Deckard said.

Kaylynn Johnson followed with a circus-shot layup for 10-straight points for the Eagles. Delta scored on its following possession for the Bobcats' first points in 3 minutes.

The Eagles went into the fourth quarter ahead by 14, and then made a 3 on their first possession and Delta never got within single digits the rest of the game.

Delta will lose one senior in Blattel and have no juniors on the roster after the school did not have a girls' basketball program for two years before bringing it back last season.

"Our young kids are really good. But we had to sell the older kids on why they should come out here and do all this running and extra work. But (Blattel) has been, for the last two years, one of my all-time favorite kids that I've ever coached. Never had a bad day of practice and just been a great example for these young kids," Heeb said. "They went from just having a team to winning their district. We played a really good team and a tough ballgame tonight. We think the future is bright."

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