Jacqui Baker
Name: Jacqui Baker
Team: Shenango
Number: #10
Grade: 12
Height: 5' 11''
Weight: N/A
Position: F
By Clayton Sauertieg
New Castle News

Jacqui Baker’s role as a leader on the Shenango High girls basketball team goes without saying.

The only senior on the team, and with just one junior underneath her on a roster laden with sophomores and freshmen, Baker has been asked to take command in 2016-17.

Baker has grown into that role and helped the Lady Wildcats forge a four-game win streak.

Her efforts in the second and third games of that streak, in which she averaged 10 points and nine rebounds per contest, served to earn her New Castle News Athlete of Week honors presented by Washington Centre Physical Therapy and voted on by the New Castle News sports staff.

“The biggest thing she brings to this team is leadership,” Shenango coach Jason Rankin said. “She’s done and seen a whole lot more than everybody else we have. So the leadership is big. Just the idea of knowing what it takes to be successful.”

But Rankin didn’t ignore Baker’s physical abilities on the court.

“Physically she gives us an inside presence and a chance to score around the basket,” he said. “She gives us a lot more opportunities, because she does have size. That’s one of our biggest positives. With rebounds and second-chance opportunities she gives us a much better chance to win the ball game.”

At 5-foot-11, Baker stands an imposing figure in the Lady Wildcats’ frontcourt and has carved out a niche as one of Lawrence County’s best rebounders. Her ability to hit the glass and make her presence felt in the paint has helped her to average 12.8 points per game which leads the way for Shenango and places her fourth in the county.

Baker started the season on fire, averaging 17.6 points per game before an ankle sprain caused her to miss Shenango’s next two games. With the team’s only senior out, and then struggling to get back to 100 percent, the Lady Wildcats started out WPIAL Section 1-2A play slowly, going 1-4 over their first five contests.

The opposite has been the case since, however, as Shenango has gone 5-1 over its last six section contests with Baker as the catalyst.

“At the beginning of the season it was really rough because we had a lot of youth and has lost four seniors,” Baker said. “But we’ve started to come together as a team and trust each other more and we’ve played a lot better as result.”

Baker says getting confidence back in her ankle following the injury was a major key to her improvement of late.

“Getting hurt was really a tough setback at the beginning of the season and I’m still kind of recovering from it,” she said. “But sitting out for those two games really made me appreciate how much I loved to play and made me put that much more into this season. I’m not as agile as I’m used to or as quick as I’m used to but I’m getting back to where I’m supposed to be and that’s really helped me.”

With Baker’s Wildcats coming together and the playoffs on the horizon, Shenango sits tied for third in the section with Burgettstown (6-5, 12-6). Four teams plus ties that can’t be broken advance to the WPIAL playoffs. Shenango and Burgettstown split the regular season series.

“I think as a team we just need to stay focused and understand that each game means even more than the last,” Baker said of what the team needs to do to secure a playoff spot. “We had to play catch up and now that we’ve caught up we need to move forward from there. But I’m just cherishing each of these last games I get to play and working hard to better myself and the team every day.”

(Email: csauertieg@ncnewsonline.com)
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