It was a night of comebacks Friday night for the Columbus East girls basketball team.
First, senior Mikala Lomax took the court after missing most of last season with a torn ACL.
Then, it was time for another comeback, as the Olympians rallied from a nine-point first-half deficit to claim a 66-56 season-opening win over Rushville, thanks in large part to 20 points and seven rebounds from Lomax.
“She’s our go-to girl,” East coach Danny Brown said. “She has the experience. She’s been around for four years, and she really rehabilitated hard to get back from her ACL (tear).”
“It felt kind of weird in the beginning because always last season, I just came to watch, so it kind of felt like that,” Lomax said. “But then I hit the floor, and I was like ‘All right, let’s go. Let’s do it.’”
Lomax was far from the only star for the Olympians on opening night. Guards Molly Macy and Courtney Hunter scored 14 and 11 points respectively, and freshman Audrey Wetzel put up 11 points and a team-high 10 rebounds in her high school debut.
“She’s probably mad she missed some of those outside shots because she usually hits those,” Brown said of Wetzel. “She’s real good getting to the basket, and she’s going to be a special player for us for four years.
“I thought Molly Macy and Courtney Hunter out front just did a heck of a job taking care of the basketball and putting pressure on the defense,” he said. “Molly just came up with some big shots, and Courtney really worked hard and knocked down some key free throws late in the game. I thought Kris Bellinger just did a great job rebounding and Sarah Loesch.”
The Lions jumped out to an 18-9 lead late in the first quarter and led 27-18 with 5½ minutes left in the first half. But then back-to-back baskets by Lomax sparked a 12-0 run that gave East a 30-27 lead.
“We’ve been working on being real aggressive in our press and real aggressive man-to-man, and I think we just got a little overaggressive and got out of position in that first quarter,” Brown said.
So with three starters on the bench with two fouls, Brown switched to a zone.
“We’re not real deep this year, so we decided to go that route, and it worked,” Brown said. “We forced them into some bad shots and we got better pressure on the shots. We just gave up way too many offensive rebounds the first quarter, and then we finally settled down.”
Rushville came back to take a 31-30 lead at halftime and opened the second half with a 3-pointer from Sarah Cook to push the lead to four. East then used a 12-2 run to take the lead for good.
The Lions were still within 48-42 with 2:20 left in the third quarter, but would go nearly nine minutes without a field goal. The Olympians led by as many as 13 in the final minute.
East played without returning starters Allyson Bunch and Katie Ritenour, who suffered ACL injuries this summer. Both are expected back in January.
“It was an emotional time for us before the game with Allyson and Katie not being able to play with us at the start,” Brown said. “Mikala being our only senior, she’s been a leader on this team for a long time, and she kind of willed us to the win.”
“I’m so proud of our team,” Lomax said. “We couldn’t have done any better.”
The Olympians lost to Rushville by 13 points this summer when East had its full contingent of players.
“I told the girls this is my 10th year at East, and we’ve been to the state championship game and back-to-back Final Fours,” Brown said. “This is as good a win as I’ve ever had as a coach.”