She stands inches below her opponents and is the only girl on a team dominated by boys, but with all odds against her, Nicole Humphrey still plays a mean game of basketball.
Humphrey and her team, the sixth- and seventh-grade Bruins, took to the court against the Blue Devils on Feb. 6 at East Lawrence Center. With the help of Humphrey and team members Austin Neidow, Austin Flory and Colin Belcher, the Bruins secured the 53-31 victory to advance to the semi-finals of the Hoopster postseason tournament.
"Both Austins had a good night tonight," Bruins head coach Steve Walter said. "Nicole and Colin both gave a good lift for the team off the bench."
Flory got the game started off right for the Bruins, jumping for the steal and driving the ball to the bucket. Troy Willoughby also sunk a free throw followed by a layup.
The Blue Devils had some chances of their own and worked hard enough to pull an early lead. Team member Levi Baker flew past Bruins' defenders to pass off the ball for a Madeline Brungardt basket.
With minutes left in the first it looked as if the Blue Devils would come out on top. It took a basket from Humphrey to tip the scales in the Bruins' favor and tie the two teams, 9-9. A free throw from Humphrey seconds later gave the Bruins a one-point edge. A final basket from Anthony Buffalomeat allowed the Bruins to close out the first quarter four points ahead of the Blue Devils.
Blue Devil Colin Becker scored the first bucket for the team at the start of the second. A follow-up basket for the Blue Devils tied it at 13, but Humphrey came through again for the Bruins with a basket off of a Neidow assist. Buffalomeat sunk two in a row to push the Bruins' score ahead more and allow them to end the half leading 19-17.
Coach Walter said the Blue Devils put the pressure on his team and forced them to enter the second half uncertain of a victory.
"In the first half they really held us," Walter said. "We tried to press them tonight but they handled it well. We finished the first half really close."
After the break the Bruins returned to the court refreshed and ready to play. For more than two minutes straight the Bruins scored consecutively and prevented the Blue Devils from getting a play setup at their end of the court. Buffalomeat swooped in on an air ball for a steal that led to an easy two-pointer for the team. Neidow took it to the house with three consecutive baskets, scoring 6 points to give his team a hefty point lead, 28-19. Buffalomeat and Belcher also continued the rally with a bucket each. Finally Neidow sunk two free throws to give the team a 13-point lead at the end of the third.
"In the second half we settled down and put the ball in the bucket," Walter said. "We also had a solid defense to keep them from scoring."
The Bruins entered the fourth with a 13-point lead and used their edge to score even more on the Blue Devils. Humphrey fiercely challenged any Blue Devil that got in her path and captured rebound shots to keep the ball in the hands of the Bruins. Belcher stepped up for an assist basket early in the fourth, and Neidow swept in for two two-pointers.
The Blue Devils sunk a three-pointer in an attempt to catch up with the Bruins, but after a Flory bucket for the Bruins, their fate was sealed and the Bruins got the win.
The Blue Devils' loss dropped them down to the losers bracket of Hoopster postseason tournament and allowed the Bruins to advance.
"I think the game turned out well," Walter said. "This time of the season we are just looking to advance and we did that tonight."