CUSTER — A strong defensive performance in the first half allowed the Mason County Eastern girls basketball team to build a sizable lead and the Cardinals made it hold up for a 45-34 victory over Big Rapids Cross Roads Academy in the Western Michigan D League at home Tuesday night.

Two girls combined to score 30 points as the Cardinals won their second straight. Janessa Alvesteffer led the way with 18 points, and Corinna Hernandez added 12.

Kaitlyn Buys and Amelia Thompson each scored 10 points for the visitors.

“I was very happy with our defense in the first half,” Eastern head coach Jacob Smith said. “They (the Cougars) have a couple young guards. They are only sophomores. They’re a little bit quicker than us.

“We had a little bit of a height advantage, so we got the ball inside, and had some good interior passing. Obviously, they have some shooters, too, so they started scoring a little bit more in the second half.

“But, we matched them just about point for point in the second half. Obviously, our first half defense and jumping out to a pretty good lead helped us sustain it. I was very pleased with my girls effort tonight.”

The Cardinals jumped out to a 10-2 lead at the end of the first quarter, and outscored the Cougars, 7-3 in the second to take a 17-5 lead at the half.

Big Rapids then started hitting more shots in the second half, which enabled the Cougars to outscore the Cardinals, 21-16 in the third period to shave the gap to 33-26. The Cardinals had a 12-8 edge in the final eight minutes.

Eastern improved its record to 7-5 overall and raised it to 7-3 in the conference. The Cardinals are next scheduled to play at Brethren on Thursday, Feb. 3.