When the 2015-16 junior high girls basketball season began, many counted out the Manchester Lady Hounds as a championship contender, mainly because of a lack of numbers, the Lady Hounds were forced to take what was mostly a seventh grade team and play in the eighth grade division of the Southern Hills Athletic Conference. Those doubters underestimated the talent of this group of Hounds as they forged their way to a regular season championship in the SHAC and then with wins over Eastern and Fairfield, found themselves in the championship game of the SHAC Tournament, battling the unbeaten winners of the big school division, the Lynchburg-Clay Lady Mustangs.
“I never thought a bunch of seventh graders would ever reach the finals,” said Manchester head coach John Kennedy. “I thought we had a chance to surprise everybody.”
In their regular season match up, the Lady Mustangs won handily 53-30, but Saturday night’s title game at North Adams High School was to evolve very differently.
There would be no blowout on this night as the Lady Hounds hung right with the favorites, getting a three-pointer from Emily Sweeney and buckets by Karigan Turner and Brooke Kennedy to trail just 8-7 after the first quarter. A basket by Yasmin Lucas, plus a Kennedy three and four more points from Turner kept the Lady Hounds right in the thick of things, though they still trailed at the intermission, 21-18.
After the break, the Manchester girls seemed to lose a little of their luster as they managed just three baskets in the third quarter. Meanwhile, Lynchburg was putting up a 13-spot and at the end of three, it was the Lady Mustangs on top 34-24.
That lead bulged to 12 points early in the fourth period and in a junior high game, that is a very difficult come-from-behind mountain to climb, but no one bothered to tell that to these young ladies from Manchester. The Lady Hounds came storming back behind six points from Kennedy, five from Turner, and four more from Lucas, who turned in an outstanding game coming off the bench. Manchester came all the way back to tie the score at 41 at the end of regulation, sending this title game before a very large and vocal contingent of Manchester fans, into overtime.
After using so much energy to get back in the game and force the extra period, the Lady Hounds may have just run out of gas as Lynchburg scored the first seven points of the overtime to go up 48-41. Manchester got a three-pointer by Kennedy to cut into the deficit, but that was to be the only Lady Hounds score in OT, as a very dejected bunch of Lady Hounds, who had nothing at all to hang their heads about, fell to the Lady Mustangs 49-44.
Proud in defeat, the Lady Hounds were led in scoring by Brooke Kennedy’s 18 points, which included a trio of three-point baskets. Karigan Turner also hit double figures with 11, with Yasmin Lucas adding 6, Emily Sweeney 5, and point guard Abby Young 4.
Most of the Lady Hounds now look forward to the 2016-17 season, where they will be eighth graders competing with eighth graders, a more level playing field. With the successes of this year behind them, look for bigger and better things in the future for this young group.
MJH 7 11 6 17 3 —44
LCJH 8 13 12 8 8 —49
MJH (44): Turner 4 3-5 11, Young 2 0-0 4, Lucas 3 0-0 6, Kennedy 7 1-3 18, Sweeney 2 0-0 5, Team 18 4-8 44.
LCJH (49): Smith 3 0-0 8, Lunsford 2 0-4 4, Fittro 3 1-2 9, Williams 8 3-4 20, Binkley 3 2-4 8, Team 19 6-14 49.
MJH- Kennedy 3, Sweeney 1
LCJH- Smith 2, Fittro 2, Willaims 1