At its current pace, the 2016-17 Crothersville girls basketball squad could prove the winningest team in school history.
But don’t tell the Tigers that — they’re taking it one game at a time.
Riding a seven-game winning streak after dropping their season opener to sectional foe West Washington, the Tigers have scrapped their way to the program’s second-best start ever.
In 1986-87, the Tigers opened the season 13-0 before finishing 14-3.
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The Tigers hit 17 wins in both the 2007-08 and 2008-09 seasons and have had three seasons over .500 since. Just five years ago, Crothersville didn’t win a single game at 0-22.
The wins haven’t come easy for the Tigers, but clutch performances have made all the difference late in games.
They’re doing enough to add tallies to the win column.
A buzzer-beater at Borden, an overtime victory against Trinity Lutheran, a defensive stand versus Orleans and a fourth-quarter offensive explosion against Shawe Memorial highlight the streak.
Orleans, which typically boasts a strong squad, also is the reigning sectional champion that knocked the Tigers out of last year’s postseason.
Having the mental capacity and skill to match to finish games was a trait the Tigers lacked last year en route to a 12-11 finish.
“In the final stretches of games, I feel like we just don’t give up,” senior guard Katrina Christian said. “Last year, we kind of folded. We have a whole new attitude with our team. A lot of people in the stands tell us that the feel of our team is different.
“I want other teams to see us as scrappy. We hustle and are passionate. We never give up. We work hard and well together.”
Christian, a commit to Eastern Illinois University, has led the Tigers’ charge.
The all-time leading scorer at Crothersville is averaging 22.4 points, 12.5 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.9 steals and has largely dominated games.
In nine games, she has notched a double-double eight times.
After a 30-point outing against Borden, she dropped a school-record 39 versus Trinity.
Most of her point production has come in the third and fourth quarters.
“Katrina had a couple big games because the other team knows they have to guard (three CHS players),” Tigers coach Kevin Hensley said. “If you’re playing a man, she goes one-on-one and is tough to handle. We’ve only really faced a zone once (Shawe Memorial).”
Christian has helped on offense this season, which has paid huge dividends for the Tigers.
Sophomore Piper Hensley is tallying 9.6 points per game, junior Lacey Hall is averaging 9.4 points and senior Kashmir Kelshaw is at 7.6 points.
Hensley and Kelshaw hit jump shots, and Hall takes it to the iron.
Kelshaw has made tremendous strides, coach Hensley said.
Last season, Kelshaw scored two or less points 11 times — not scoring seven times — with a season high of nine points against Medora.
Senior Madison Reynolds has played in the starting five most of the season at center and has become a defensive force and screen-setter for Crothersville.
“As a whole, the team has gotten a lot better through unity,” Reynolds said. “We’re putting in defensive stops, which we didn’t always do last year. Overall, we’ve been working better together as a unit, and that’s the key thing which has helped us.”
The bench has made a big difference and will continue to prove a difference maker the remainder of the way.
Sophomore Maddie Riley and junior Kalynda Hoevener can have big games on any given night.
Junior Nikki Hickman, who plays at the four/five-position, will return to the Tigers soon off injury. She hasn’t played yet this season.
Hickman put in significant time for the Tigers last season, playing in 15 games mostly in a sixth-man role.
While the offense has flowed time and again, the defense has been the biggest difference for the Tigers.
Crothersville is putting up 56.6 points per game and giving up 45.9.
They’re long and athletic and have frustrated teams with their full-court press.
“We’re a lot better defensively,” coach Hensley said. “We’re a lot longer and quicker than the past couple years. Lacey and Maddie can both play as forwards or guards. I know our offense is there, but our defense is really picking up.
“Our press works so much better because we’re so much more athletic now. It puts a lot of pressure on a team having Lacey, Maddie and Katrina up in the press. It’s hard to see over them with their length.”
The coaches at Crothersville aren’t the only ones teaching the team.
Hensley shows his team video clips from different coaches, sending a variety of messages, to solidify the points by him and assistant varsity/junior varsity coach Chris Mains.
“I show them little clips of different coaches, and I’m a Kentucky fan, so we show them a lot of coach (John) Calipari,” Hensley said. “They seem to take what he says and apply it to our team, like if you’re not playing hard, you will sit the bench. We have enough talent here, and that’s the way it is here now.”
Crothersville has never won a sectional in any sport — boys or girls.
The Tigers are 3-1 against sectional opponents, and the only team they haven’t faced is cross-county rival Medora.
Saturday’s home game against South Central could determine the eventual winner of the Southern Athletic Conference.
The Tigers tied for the SAC title in 2009 with South Central and New Washington but have never won it outright.
While South Central is 3-3, its losses have come to much larger schools — Floyd Central, Charlestown and Providence.
But the Tigers’ eyes are on tonight’s game at South Decatur.
Then they can focus on potentially the biggest regular season game of the year.
“I think that a really huge goal for us is to win sectional,” Christian said. “Teams haven’t seen the best of us yet. We’re just a November team right now. I think that in January and February, we will be prepared. I think we have a pretty good chance at winning it this year.”