Rarely does a team that does not score a single point in the first quarter of a high school basketball game come out the winner, but the West Union Lady Dragons proved that wrong on Dec. 29 at North Adams High School in the consolation game of the 2015 McDonald’s Holiday Classic. Battling the Manchester Lady Greyhounds for the third place hardware, the Lady Dragons were shut out in the first quarter for the second game in succession, but rallied with a big 16-0 run over the second and third periods to come from behind and knock off the Lady Hounds 42-30.
“The last couple of years we haven’t been able to get a win in this tournament so it’s nice to finally win one,” West Union head coach Jason Claytor told C103 radio after the game. “We had more people here tonight than we might have in 4 or 5 games combined. We have two pretty good rivalries going on here.”
The Manchester defense was the story of the first eight minutes of action as their very active zone kept the Lady Dragons out of the paint and just as in the semi-final game with Peebles, West Union got very few open looks at the rim in the first period. Unfortunately for the Lady Hounds, they were not able to capitalize on their own offensive end, scoring just six points of their own in the opening quarter, getting two baskets from C.J. Hobbs in the first three minutes, then after nearly a five-minute drought for both sides, a Morgan Johnson bucket in the final seconds gave Manchester the 6-0 lead.
“Manchester came out in that 1-3-1 zone which I didn’t expect it all and it stifled us in that first quarter,” said Coach Claytor.
West Union finally got on the board in the opening minute of the second quarter when Alex Pennington hit a pair from the foul line, but two free throws by Manchester’s Kylie Lucas and a coast to coast score by Johnson put the Hounds up 10-2, but that was to be the end of the Manchester offense for the next 10 minutes of play.
A three-pointer from Pennington began a 14-0 run for the Lady Dragons to close out the first half. A pair of freshmen, Pennington and Jaycee Baldwin did the damage with Pennington adding two more baskets plus another trey while Baldwin hit a pair of buckets in the paint as the Lady Dragons surged in front for good, leading 16-10 at the intermission.
“We got ball movement and player movement in the second quarter and that was something we preach over and over,” said Claytor. “We let the ball find the open girl.”
No one scored for the first 90 seconds of the third quarter before a pair of Mikayla Akers free throws extended the West Union run to 16-0 and their lead to eight points. Finally, after nearly ten minutes of offensive futility, Johnson went to the charity stripe and canned two shots to make it 18-12.
In the third quarter as a whole, neither team did much offensive damage as they combined for just 11 total points. A basket by Akers gave the Lady Dragons back their eight-point advantage, but Johnson countered with the “basket and one” to keep her team within striking distance at 20-15. The final basket of the third stanza came at the 1:52 mark by West Union’s Kristen Grooms, sending the teams to the final period with West Union up 22-15.
Any hope that the Lady Hounds had of a come-from-behind fourth quarter win were extinguished quickly as West Union scored the first 9 points of the period, driving a dagger on back-to-back possessions with nothing but net three-pointers from McKenzie Kirker and Akers. An offensive rebound and score by Johnson temporarily stopped the run of the Lady Dragons, but Akers dialed long distance from the corner this time to give her team a comfortable 34-17 lead.
Two free throws by Kiersten Rowe stretched the lead to its longest of the game at 36-17, before the Lady Hounds showed some resiliency with a pair of free throws from freshman McKenzie Smith and a Johnson three with just over four minutes to play.
Johnson converted another three-point play with 2:32 to play that made it 37-25 but the Lady Hounds were just running out of time. West union sealed the deal for good with a quick 5-0 run capped by a Kendall Gallowitz basket and even with Manchester’s Hobbs getting the final two buckets of the game, it wasn’t enough as the third place trophy headed for the case at West Union High School with a 42-30 Lady Dragons victory.
“We just need to be consistent,” said Coach Claytor. “We can’t have first quarters like we had tonight and get away with it very often. We’ve got to be consistent in our execution on both ends and I thought tonight was one of our best defensive efforts since I became coach here.
In the consolation win that upped their season record to 5-5 on the year, the Lady Dragons placed two players in double figures, led by 13 points from Alexa Pennington and 12 from Mikayla Akers. Kristen Grooms and Jaycee Baldwin each scored 5 points for the winners.
The Lady Hounds, who again had just 8 players available for Coach Jacie Simon, dropped to 1-9 on the season, and were led in scoring in the loss by Morgan Johnson, who gives every ounce of effort from start to finish, and had 18 of the 30 Manchester points in the consolation defeat. The improving C.J. Hobbs scored 8 for the Lady Hounds.
Both teams will be back in action as school resumes at the start of a New Year. West Union will play two non-conference games, hosting Blanchester on Jan. 4 and then traveling to Northwest on Jan. 6, before coming back home on Jan. 7 to face the unbeaten Lynchburg Lady Mustangs in Southern Hills Athletic Conference play.
The Lady Hounds are off until Jan. 7 when they make the very long bus ride to Fairfield High School to battle the Lady Lions, looking to avenge a 64-39 defeat on Dec. 10.
MHS 6 4 5 15 —30
WUHS 0 16 6 20 —42
MHS (30): Smith 0 2-2 2, Johnson 6 5-6 18, Hobbs 4 0-4 8, Lucas 0 2-4 2, Team 10 9-18 30.
WUHS (42): Baldwin 2 1-4 5, Kirker 1 0-1 3, Akers 4 2-2 12, Rowe 0 2-2 2, Grooms 1 3-4 5, Gallowitz 1 0-0 2, Pennington 4 3-8 13, Team 13 11-21 42.
MHS- Johnson 1
WUHS- Kirker 1, Akers 2, Pennington 2