Circle uses big second to blow by El Dorado and into sub-state finals

Lionel Tipton

TOWANDA – Circle High’s girls showed what they were capable of Wednesday night, living up to their top seed in their Class 4A sub-state by rolling to a 56-20 semifinal victory over El Dorado.

But El Dorado showed some fight early on, going on a 7-0 run to tie the score at 7-7 with 3:18 left in the first quarter. But the Thunderbirds (14-5) used a 19-0 second quarter for a 34-9 halftime lead and cruised from there.

Circle advances to Saturday’s sub-state final, also at home, against second-seeded Andale (16-5), which advanced with a 52-15 rout of No. 3 Augusta. El Dorado ends the season 0-18.

Tuesday’s game bore some similarities to the teams’ first meeting Jan. 8, a 55-19 T-Birds victory at Circle. The return match at El Dorado was canceled because of COVID-19.

The T-Birds capitalized on numerous Wildcat turnovers, converting many into points. 

Senior guard Kimalee Cook had a couple of baskets off turnovers, some of which were breakaways. Her perimeter touch also returned, hitting three from beyond the arc and finishing with a game-high 18 points – nine in each half. She was the only Thunderbird in double figures.

El Dorado, which just recently regained the services of its underclass players from COVID quarantine, was led by senior Bailey Camien’s 12 points.

In all, nine Circle players scored in the game. The lopsided margin allowed coach Brian Henry to get some important playing time for his reserves.

“That’s what I love to see,” Henry said of the number of players scoring. “If we can get more people involved, that means teams can’t just key on one person to take away, that we can have multiple players that can help produce for us.”

Circle was focused and very efficient in its scoring, and it was just a game where the entire team was clicking.

Henry totally agreed.

“I think that’s the word for the night – clicking,” he said. “And that’s exactly what we wanted. We wanted to get everybody on the same page, able to get some people worked in there. We knew that coming into this, we needed to box out and rebound; we needed to show our transition game against them, and we had to get the ‘hustle’ plays.

“El Dorado’s always a team that is always on the floor, getting the loose balls, so we wanted to make sure we didn’t give those opportunities up to them. I felt like we did the little things that we needed to do.”

Circle’s slow start in the first quarter was partly because of forcing some shots, Henry said. 

“They weren’t falling, so really wanted to attack the inside in the second quarter,” he said. “Once we started doing that, it kind of helped us extend the lead. And then, we kind of wore them out a little bit during that stretch.”

For Cook, it was a return to form. The Southern Nazarene signee showed a variety of ways to score, from hitting the perimeter shot to a nice reverse lay-in under the basket.

She was surprised when she was told that Circle held El Dorado scoreless in the second quarter.

“Oh, really? No way,” Cook said. “Our defense was really good, and our transition was great, so I think that really helped a lot.”

Having nine players score also helps, she said.

“Everyone’s contributing in every way, and I think that helps the game,” Cook said.

And it takes some of the pressure to score off Cook’s shoulders as well.

“I don’t have to do everything,” she said. “I have teammates who have my back, can contribute and make good plays. I think we all did that (Tuesday night).”

One of Circle’s five losses was to Andale, which came to the T-Birds’ gym and left with a 47-30 victory Feb. 2. The Indians have just one senior, 5-foot-9 senior Katelyn Fairchild, but they are a very disciplined team.

Henry said the T-Birds will have to match Andale’s physical nature.

“They’re physical; they attack the glass,” he said. “They go hard for offensive rebounds. We have to make sure we are keyed in on boxing out our man as well as on our rotations.”

Cook said her team will be looking for revenge, especially with a state berth on the line.

“The first time we played them, we kind of got kicked in the teeth,” Cook said. “But I think this time, I think we’re going to really show out and prove that we deserve to be in the state tournament.”

Circle girls 56, El Dorado 20

El Dorado 9;0;5;6 – 20

Circle 15;19;10;12 – 56

EL DORADO – Camien 2(2) 2-2 12, Scholes 2 1-1 5, Motter 0(1) 0-0 3. Totals 4(3) 3-3 20.

CIRCLE – Cook 4(3) 1-2 18, Claycamp 3 3-3 9, Chase 4 0-0 8, Dennison 3 0-0 6, Johnson 2 1-2 5, Shaults 2 0-0 4, Thornton 1 0-0 2, Edgerle 1 0-0 2, Coble 1 0-0 2. Totals 21(3) 5-7 56.