EL DORADO, Kansas — A poor start doomed the Cloud County Community College women's basketball team in its Monday morning showdown against No. 20 Butler Community College, falling 72-56 on the road to the Grizzlies.
Cloud County (12-6 overall, 5-4 KJCCC) played toe-to-toe with the nationally ranked Grizzlies (16-2 overall, 7-2 KJCCC) for three quarters, with Butler holding a slight 51-50 edge over the final 30 minutes.
Unfortunately for the T-Birds, the first 10 minutes created a hole Cloud County was unable to crawl out of as they fell behind, 21-6, in the first quarter to a Butler team that is a spotless 9-0 on its home floor this season.
Cloud County shot 2-of-14 (14 percent) with six turnovers in the first quarter — the T-Birds would finish the game at 32 percent (18-of-56) — while the Grizzlies capitalized on Cloud's slow start with a 9-of-18 shooting performance from the field in the opening frame.
"We didn't appear to be mentality prepared to play to start the game. There could be a lot of reasons for that, but there's no excuse for it," said Cloud County head coach, Brett Erkenbrack. "We were real tentative on both ends of the floor and Butler came out very aggressive."
The T-Birds were able to settle in after the initial surge by Butler, inching back within 10 points on three separate occasions, the latest being at 53-43 with 57 seconds remaining in the third quarter on a pair of free throws by sophomore forward Mikaela Meyers.
Meyers was active off the bench, scoring five points while adding five rebounds and two steals in her 15 minutes.
Cloud County also received a strong effort from freshman guard Chase Siedlik as she poured in 14 points off the bench, eight of which came in the third quarter, on 4-of-6 shooting from 3-point range.
"Mikaela and Chase gave us a big lift off the bench," Erkenbrack said. "Chase gave us some life, offensively, and for Mikaela it was her second really strong effort in a row."
Sophomore forward Scout Frame led all T-Birds with 15 points and three steals while tying for the team-high in rebounds with seven.
Freshman point guard Emmiley Hendrixson added nine points to round out Cloud County's top scorers.
As a team, Cloud County was outrebounded, 45-32, and were edged 34-16 in points in the paint; two categories have been the T-Birds bread and butter much of the season.
"There's no question that we've hung our hat on rebounding and scoring the ball inside. But this is two games in a row where we've had really subpar performances," Erkenbrack said. "We have to have production from our starting five and the last two games we haven't had much. Then it becomes a real struggle. We have to get that corrected and turned around or we'll continue to struggle."
Erkenbrack said he was pleased to see the fight his team showed after the disappointing first quarter, but that the T-Birds can't be satisfied with moral victories as the team enters KJCCC East action.
"The way things were going, there was the possibility of that game turning into a 30-point blowout type game. We battled enough to give ourselves an opportunity and did enough good things to hang around and give ourselves a chance," Erkenbrack said. "But that's two games in a row on the road that I think we could have won and didn't. We're after the wins and there's no walking out of there with moral victories. Our next opportunity to get a win is Wednesday night."
Cloud County will be back on its home floor at 6 p.m. Wednesday against Coffeyville, which currently sits at 3-14 overall and 2-6 in the KJCCC East.
"Every game is critically important. We have to think about finishing as high as we can and we're playing to get a first-round home playoff game," Erkenbrack said. "There's an awful lot riding on every ballgame. I don't think it can be overstated. They're all big."