T-Birds get third straight conference win

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The Cloud County Thunderbirds are finding ways to win early in the Jayhawk Conference Western Division season.
Playing their first Conference game at home, the T-Birds outrebounded Barton County by a whopping 51-29 and knocked down 23 of 26 free throws for 89 percent on their way to a 77-61 victory Saturday night in Bryant Gymnasium.
Cloud County had three players record double-doubles, and turned 18 offensive rebounds into 21 second chance points.
The T-Birds, now 12-6 overall, are off to a 3-0 start in Conference play.
“We are learning how to win. That is something we didn’t always do earlier in the season,” Cloud County coach Brett Erkenbrack said, “We are quite a bit smarter and better defensively than we were. We are doing a really good job of rebounding the ball. We are shooting free throws well.”
Jayna Smith, who was 6 of 10 from the field and eight of eight from the line, scored 21 points and grabbed 13 rebounds for Cloud County.
Jordyn Alexander finished with 18 points and 12 rebounds. She was eight of nine from the line.
Courtney Fisher tossed in 10 points and pulled down 13 rebounds.
Cloud County also got 16 points, five rebounds, four assists and four steals from Raneisha Duncan.
“We continue to get good, solid production out of that sophomore group. That was Courtney Fisher’s best Conference game. Jayna and Jordyn are just giving us good, solid, consistent production, Outside of the first two or three minutes, Raneisha had a good game,” Erkenbrack said.
Leading just 31-29, the T-Birds outscored Barton County 18-7 over the first 7:14 of the second half to go up 49-36.
The Cougars, 14-5 overall and 2-1 in the Jayhawk West, battled back to within four points, 55-51, when Cheyenne Hedrington scored inside with 8:25 to play.
Duncan hit a three, but Kailai Branter scored inside for Barton County.
Two free throws each by Alexander and Smith put Cloud County on top 62-53.
Hedrington grabbed an offensive rebound and scored, and the Cougars trailed just 62-55.
A three-point shot by Alyssa Steppe and a jumper by Tai Nittler upped the T-Birds’ lead to 67-55 with 3:21 remaining in the game.
“That was a big three-point shot by Alyssa Steppe. Tai Nittler hit a big shot,” Erkenbrack said.
Alexander made two free throws to make it a 69-55 game.
After Hedrington made two free throws, the T-Birds scored eight points in 1:33 to blow the game open at 77-57.
“I thought we had some really good offensive possessions the last five or six minutes,” Erkenbrack said, “The last six minutes we probably played as well as we can on both ends of the floor.”
Cloud County finished 25 of 60 from the field for 42 percent.
Hedrington led Barton County with 14 points and eight rebounds.
Branter scored 10 points for the Cougars.
Barton County was 22 of 63 from the floor for 35 percent and 12 of 19 from the line for 63 percent.
Cloud County trailed much of the first half, and was down 22-19 with five minutes remaining.
Five straight points by Smith, a three-point play by Duncan and two free throws by Kiara McCall put the T-Birds on top to stay, 29-22.
The two teams traded baskets, and Branter scored in the final seconds of the half to close the gap to 31-29.
Cloud County scored the first six points of the second half to up the lead to 37-29.
The Cougars would get as close as four points before the T-Birds pulled away.
“Another good solid win,” Erkenbrack said.
Cloud County will play at Hutchinson on Wednesday night.
The Blue Dragons are also 3-0 in the Conference.
“We have done all we can do. Certainly going to Hutchinson on Wednesday night will be a big game and a tough game,” Erkenbrack said.

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