By David Rogers. March 2, 2019. BOONE, NC — It was only fitting. Fifth-year senior and much heralded App State team leader Madi Story almost had a double-double in Saturday’s 83-69 win over the Ragin’ Cajuns of Louisiana-Lafayette with 12 points and nine rebounds — but there was still a palpable changing of the guard.
COVER IMAGE: Senior guard Madi Story (34) completes a pass to sophomore forward Lainey Gosnell under the basket. All photographic images by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News
BOX SCORE and SLIDESHOW at bottom of this story.
With 15 points, redshirt junior point guard Ashley Polacek tied Louisiana’s Andrea Cournoyer for game-high scoring honors and also recorded a team-high eight assists in front of announced attendance of 617.
Five of the 13 Mountaineers who saw playing time on the Holmes Center hardcourt recorded double figures in points scored, but the real difference-maker was App State’s dominance in rebounding, collecting 45 boards and almost doubling the 28 rebounds by the Ragin’ Cajuns.
But it wasn’t the usual “suspect” that cleaned the boards for the home team. Up until Saturday, sophomore center/forward Bayley Plummer had pulled down at least 10 rebounds for 15-game straights games, the second longest streak of that type in the USA. In leading the Sun Belt Conference, Plummer was the only player in the league averaging in double figures at 12.2 boards per game.
As a team, on Saturday the Mountaineers pulled down 45 rebounds while limiting Louisiana to just 28. While you might think the Sun Belt’s leading rebounder would collect her fair share, on this day Plummer was limited to just six, while scoring 12 points.
With her nine boards, Story and emerging Mountaineer star, sophomore forward Lainey Gosnell (10 rebounds, 13 points) cleaned things up in the paint for Appalachian, including three of the team’s 16 rebounds on the offensive end of the court.
After the game, App State head coach Angel Elderkin smiled appreciatively in saying, “One of the interesting things about rebounding…Bayley had to box out their leading rebounder, so that (provided) opportunities for other players. She still did her job. It just doesn’t show up on the stat sheet.”
In addition to rebounding, App State’s defensive game plan figured significantly in the game’s outcome. In the teams’ first meeting on January 31st in Lafayette, LA, the Ragin’ Cajuns’ leading scorer and rebounder, center Ty’Reona Doucet poured in 28 points and pulled down 15 rebounds.
Given that earlier performance by Doucet, Plummer might easily be recognized as the MVP of Saturday’s contest by effectively taking the 6-1 center from Ville Platte, Louisiana out of the game. Doucet managed only eight points and just a single rebound in her 27 minutes on the court. In doing so, Plummer may have also limited her own stats, but she had teammates in Gosnell, Story, and fellow sophomore forward Maya Calder (11 points, 2 rebounds, 1 steal) to pick up the slack.
Louisiana head coach Garry Broadhead didn’t apologize for his injury-plagued charges in speaking with reporters later, pointing out bluntly that the difference in the game was really rebounding.
“If you look at the stats,” Broadhead postulated, “everything was pretty even. We shot about the same amount of shots, made about the same amount of shots, and made about the same amount of threes. It was the rebounding. The rebounding really hurt us in that we gave them second shots and it started from the beginning of the game…They got 10 extra shots because of their rebounding (on offense).”
In the opening remarks of her post-game press conference, Elderkin recalled, “What we told them in the locker room is that all of our mission today is to send out Madi Story and Anna Perez Gomez (the seniors) on the right note. So I was really pleased with the energy and the effort that our team played with.
“We had one day of (preparation),” Elderkin added, “and putting in the zone. I thought we executed our defensive game play really, really well. It was good to see our team lock in and be able to play a zone for 40 minutes, which is not something we have done with this group. There are a lot of good things we could shine a light on, but most importantly our team played for the seniors.”
In answer to a Blowing Rock News question about the impact of Story and the role of Gomez in the shadow of their final game at the Holmes Center, Elderkin was effusive in her description of both.
“Gomez is always positive,” said Elderkin. “She is obviously an international student who suffered an ACL tear. Things haven’t always gone her way. She is overloaded in classes in terms of her major, but she always has a smile. In team meetings, she always shines a light on what needs to be done. She was part of a recruiting class that helped us change the culture of this program.”
Elderkin said that one of the team objectives for Saturday’s game was to outwork Lafayette for 40 minutes.
“For five years — and believe me when I say I wished I had Madi Story for five more years,” said the Mountaineers’ head mentor, now in her fifth season at the helm. “She has defined relentless work ethic. Madi has set a standard for this program that will continue to continue to continue long after she leaves. She left the program better than when she first got it.”
“App State women’s basketball has meant so much to me,” Story shared in her post-game comments. “Out of all the teams that I have been with during my time here, this team…we are the closest We are so supportive and everyone has each other’s back. Everyone wants the best for everyone. There is a lot of love.
“When the injury happened,” Story added, “it was my senior year and I was devastated. It wasn’t going the way I thought (my senior year would go). But now I obviously feel lucky to be able to have another year and play with this group. They got another year of (experience) under their belt and we got Ashley (Polacek). I’m glad to still be here, but we need to finish it.”
Now 15-12 overall, the Mountaineers are 9-7 in Sun Belt Conference play and in fifth place in the league standings. They are on a 3-game win streak. They close out the regular season on the road next week, in Alabama. They pin their hopes on improving their conference tournament seeding at third place Troy (20-7 overall, 11-5 in Sun Belt) on Thursday, then travel to Mobile, AL on Saturday to face seventh place South Alabama (19-8, 8-8). The Sun Belt Conference tournament opens on Monday, March 11 with play-in games that see #7 vs. #10 and #8 vs. #9. Then on Wednesday, March 13, the winner of #8 vs. #9 will meet the #5 seed, while the #6 seed will take on the winner of #7 vs. #11.
If they can win their final two games on the road, App State has an outside chance of claiming the #4 seed (and early round byes), but will need some help to overcome current 4th placeholder, Georgia State (16-12, 10-7).
SLIDESHOW By David Rogers for Blowing Rock News