Manchester outguns Fairfield 61-47 in championship game –
Story and photos by Mark Carpenter –
Sometimes junior high girls basketball games can be rather uneventful and even hard to watch, but that was most definitely not the case on Wednesday night at Manchester High School. The Hound Pound was the setting for the championship round of the Southern Hills Athletic Conference girls basketball tournament and the action did nothing to disappoint. After the seventh grade title game went to overtime with Fairfield defeating Eastern Brown 29-27, the host Lady Hounds took the floor looking for the eighth grade championship, battling the Fairfield Lady Lions.
It was not the match up that many expected to see, but a very entertaining match up to say the least. Most expected the Lady Hounds to face undefeated North Adams for the third time, but the Lady Lions threw a wrench in those plans when they knocked off the Lady Devils in the semi-final round. Manchester and Fairfield would be the combatants for the title and they put on a show not often seen in local junior high annals, combining for 108 points in a run and gun, up and down affair that the Lady Hounds led from wire to wire on their way to the eighth grade crown, winning by a final score of 61-47.
“Our kids’ composure was a big key tonight,” said Manchester head coach John Kennedy. “We had a huge crowd and the atmosphere was as electric as any high school boys game, let alone junior high girls. With that and the way Fairfield kept coming at us, our girls just kept their cool and responded to a big basket by them with a big basket of our own. The played with a lot of poise and determination.”
“Another big key was tempo. The best way to beat a zone is to not let it get set up, so we emphasized running our break and using our press to force some turnovers.”
The first two baskets of the game belonged to Manchester’s Emily Sweeney and Brooke Kennedy and when Fairfield’s Samara Cannon later nailed a three to cut the Lady Hounds’ lead to 6-5, the theme for the night was set as the first half turned out to be a shootout between the above mentioned trio of girls.
Kennedy and Sweeney combined for 17 first quarter points, while Cannon was racking up a trio of three-point goals and a three at the buzzer by Kennedy left the host team up 19-12 after one.
“We had a good idea that they would sit back in a zone in an effort to contain our inside game, so it was critical that we moved the ball well to get some good open looks from the perimeter to free up our shooters,” said Kennedy. “ Abby Young and Karigan Turner did an excellent job of creating space with the dribble to free up Emily and Brooke and they both knocked down some big shots early. We had 13 assists on our 14 made field goals in the first half.”
The race horse pace continued in the second quarter with another Kennedy trey giving the Hounds a 10-point lead, but Fairfield answering with a 7-0 run. A Sweeney three extended the Manchester lead to six and when Kennedy went deep again and Turner got a layup in transition, the margin stretched to 32-23. Back came the Lady Lions with a Cannon trey and a bucket at eh horn by Layla Hattan and the halftime deficit for the Lady Lions was Cut to just four points.
“I thought our defensive effort on Cannon was very important,” said Coach Kennedy. “Karigan and Brooke has the job of guarding her but our help on her was just as important to keep her out of the paint. She had 17 at halftime on us but we held her to just five in the second half on 1 for 12 shooting. She did pass the ball very well and they took advantage of some of our defensive mistakes.”
Fairfield cut the Lady Hounds’ lead to two early in the third period, but the Manchester girls continued to have the answers, getting baskets from Young, Turner, and Sweeney and then a big three-pointer from Braxlynn McClanahan and another from Sweeney to lead 44-36 heading into the final stanza.
“We got some real good minutes out of our bench tonight,” added Kennedy. “Braxlynn hit that big ‘3’ when Fairfield was making a run and Yasmin Lucas got us some big rebounds and Gabby Brown gave us a good defensive effort.”
The game stayed close for most of the fourth quarter, with a Cannon three pulling the Lady Lions within 48-43 with 4:41 to play. Any hopes of a Fairfield comeback were dashed when Manchester’s Sydnie Cox took over. Saddled with foul trouble for the first half, Cox came alive late in the game and helped to seal the deal for the Lady Hounds. Cox scored three baskets in a two-minute span that pushed the Manchester lead back to double digits, part of an 11-0 run that was one final blow the Lady Lions could not recover from as it was time for the Lady Hounds to celebrate an SHAC tourney title, winning by the final score of 61-47.
“Sydnie was huge tonight as she always is,” said Coach Kennedy. “She controlled the boards when she was in there and when they went man late, we took advantage and she had seven big points that really closed the game out for us.”
In the “W”, the Lady Hounds, who finished 16-2, placed three players in double figures, led by 18 points apiece from Brooke Kennedy and Emily Sweeney, who shot a combined 56% from the field and combined for four three-point goals. Karigan Turner scored 10 for the champions, with Sydnie Cox chipping in 7 points and 10 rebounds. Abby Young also scored 7 for Manchester and dished out 5 assists.
Fairfield was topped by Samara Cannon’s game-high 22 points.
“Winning wasn’t the ultimate goal for our team,” said Kennedy. “We’ve been together now for eight years and our goal has always been to prepare these girls for high school basketball and to teach them how to play the game. We wanted to create a winning environment, but not at the expense of improving as individuals and as a team. We are obviously very pleased with the results of their hard work and we’re looking forward to seeing their contributions to the high school program in the years to come.”
12 16 8 11 –47
19 13 12 17 –61
Fairfield (67): Daley 1 0-0 2, Crum 2 0-0 4, Hester 3 3-4 9, Cannon 8 0-0 22, Hattan 5 0-0 10, Team 19 3-4 47.
Manchester (61): Turner 3 2-4 8, Young 3 0-0 7, Kennedy 8 0-0 18, Sweeney 8 0-0 18, Cox 3 1-2 7, McClanahan 1 0-0 3, Team 26 3-6 61.
Fairfield (6): Cannon 6
Manchester (6): Kennedy 2, Sweeney 2, Young 1, McClanahan 1