By David Coulson. March 2, 2019. BOONE, NC — Teammates of Appalachian State senior women’s basketball players Madi Story and Anna Perez Gomez were determined to send this dynamic duo off properly for their final appearance at the Holmes Convocation Center on Saturday afternoon.
COVER IMAGE: Mountaineer point guard Ashley Polacek attracts a crowd as she drives around a Lafayette defender. Photographic image by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News.
And the Lady Mountaineers accomplished the task in rousing fashion with an 83-69 victory over Louisiana-Lafayette as five players scored in double figures. It was one of App State’s most complete performances of the season.
Story tallied 12 points and nine rebounds, with three assists and played impeccable defense to cap off her standout home career. And Perez Gomez, who has missed her final season with a knee injury, was delightfully surprised by a stirring video message from her family in Spain.
But the biggest catalyst was junior point guard Ashley Polacek, who was a dynamo from the starting gate to the final buzzer.
Polacek led the Lady Mountaineers with 15 points and eight assists while shredding the ULL press with her ball-handling and keying the defensive effort with her ball pressure in a 2-3 zone. The assist total didn’t include the niftiest play of the day when the Canadian transfer bounced a pass off of a Ragin Cajun defender purposely on an in-bounds play — and scored the lay-in.
“It was only right for us to make it right for them,” Polacek said later of the two beloved senior teammates. “We did a really good job of that today.”
Appalachian (15-12 overall, 9-7 in the Sun Belt Conference) burned to a 17-5 lead in the initial six minutes of the first quarter and never let off the gas until coach Angel Elderkin cleared her bench in the final minutes. The Lady Mountaineers led by as many 26 points in the fourth period before ULL made a late run in garbage time, with its starters taking advantage of the App State bench.
“We got the dub (W),” said Story. “It was a really good one to end with. From start to finish, we were in sync.”
With the victory, the Lady Mountaineers avenged one of their most disappointing contests of the season, a 73-55 loss at Louisiana-Lafayette on Jan. 31, where Ragin Cajun forward Ty’Reona Doucet scorched them for 28 points and 16 rebounds.
This time around, Appalachian’s zone defense clamped off the interior and prevented ULL penetration as Doucet was limited to just eight points and one rebound. The Mountaineers finished with an impressive, 45-28 rebounding advantage.
About the only negative was that App State committed 21 turnovers against the funky, Ragin Cajuns’ man-to-man, trapping press.
Even still, Appalachian’s balance on offense, paced by 13 points and 10 rebounds from Lainey Gosnell, 12 points and six boards from Bayley Plummer and 11 points from Maya Calder off the bench negated any miscues.
“From the beginning, we were a step slow,” ULL coach Gary Broadhead said of his young, senior-less and injury-plagued squad. “It was just the rebounding, too many second shots.”
Freshman point guard Andrea Cornoyer sparked ULL with 15 points and four assists, but most of that offense came too late to make a difference. Diamond Morrison added 12 points and Kendall Bess contributed 11 for the Ragin Cajuns (7-20, 5-11).
“Our mission was to send Madi and Anna out in the right way,” said Elderkin. “Our offense came alive. Our team came alive. We had to do something different (defensively).”
With its third consecutive victory after a costly three-game losing skid, the fifth-place Lady Mountaineers seem poised to launch into the final week of the regular season at South Alabama and Troy with momentum — and then into the ensuing conference tournament the following two weeks.
“Heading into the tournament, it’s important (that we) learned to put a team away,” Elderkin said.
And this sterling senior-day performance had an obvious confidence-building impact on Appalachian.
“It showed us what we’re capable of, if we’re on the same page,” Polacek offered.
At the end of a delightful afternoon, Story took time to reflect on the ups and downs of her brilliant career, one which Elderkin called one of the greatest in the Mountaineers’ women’s basketball program history.
“It feels really good to go out with this group,” shared Story, who came back after missing the 2017-18 campaign with an ACL tear in her knee and seemed to shake off the effects of a concussion suffered two weeks ago at Coastal Carolina. “I was kind of devastated (with the knee injury), but I’m so lucky to have played another year with this group of women.”