Huntington wins foul-plagued, thrilling opener –
By Mark Carpenter –
It certainly wasn’t pretty, but 49 fouls and 68 free throws later, the West Union Lady Dragons and the Huntington Lady Huntsmen gave the fans in attendance at WUHS a night to remember, as their season opener turned out to be as exciting as one could hope for an opener to be. Though the play was sloppy as evidenced by the large number of whistles, the game itself was a thriller, coming down to the final seconds where the heart break fell on the side of the home team as the Lady Huntsmen hit a three-pointer at the final horn to claim a 57-55 victory.
The game had a little bit of everything- fouls, numerous trips to the foul line, turnovers, lots of scoring, back and forth momentum, and the dream of every player at every level, a three-point game winning shot. Unfortunately for the Lady Dragons, that shot came from the hand of Huntington’s Shyanne Conley.
“We fouled way too much, not moving our feet on defense,” said West Union head coach J.R. Kirker in his postgame radio interview. “We try to play defense with our hands and we just can’t do that. We just have to sit down and start guarding people. At times we played well on defense, but not enough.”
“I felt like we forced a lot of things early in the game but then we seemed to settle down and played some good half court sets. We just need everyone to come out and play 32 minutes a game.”
The theme for the night was set early, a close game all the way through with neither team being able to pull away. Huntington got the game’s first two baskets and the first two West Union scores of the season came on baskets by Haley Daniels.
With Huntington up 8-4, the scoreboard quickly switched when West Union’s Harley Silvia drilled back-to-back threes to give her team the advantage.
Two minutes later, Silvia struck again and it was another three-point goal that put the Lady Dragons up 15-12, only to see that lead vanish when Huntington matched with a trey by Riley Black. A foreshadowing of things to come came as the first quarter buzzer sounded as Huntington’s Conley fired in a three ball that gave her team a 20-17 lead after eight action-filled minutes of play.
Early in the second stanza, the lady Huntsmen extended their lead out to 24-17, but the Lady Dragons fought back with buckets by Kaley Daniels and Sianna Mills to pull within three. Back came the visitors with five straight, all from the foul line, before West Union’s Kiersten Rowe closed out the first half with a three from the corner and a pair from the charity stripe to send the two teams to the intermission with Hunting in front 29-26.
Most of the third period was spent walking back and forth between the two free throw lines as eight of the period’s first 12 points combined came from the line. Huntington held a 36-31 lead with 307 left in the third before the Lady Dragons got baskets from Silvia and Jaycee Baldwin then another Rowe three to take their first lead since the first quarter at 38-36. That lead lasted all of eight seconds as two free throws by Huntington’s Braiden Collins, who finished with a game-high 27 points before fouling out late, tied the score at 38. The lead heading into the final period belonged to the home team, however, as a three-pointer at the buzzer by Kaley Daniels put the home side on top 42-38.
If a lot of time in the third quarter was spent at the free throw lines, the fourth quarter was even worse as the two teams combined for 31 foul shots in the final eight minutes. With five minutes to play, a three-pointer by Baldwin gave West Union a 48-43 lead, but the lady Huntsmen rallied from the free throw line to pull within 49-48 with 3:55 remaining. A flurry of activity then took place, after Huntington had retaken the lead at 51-50, Collins fouled out with 2:02 to go, while the Lady Dragons lost Baldwin and Rowe late in the game. Add in the fact that point guard Mckenzie Kirker was forced to the bench with painful leg cramps and Coach Kirker was down to five healthy bodies for the final minutes.
“I don’t know what we would have done if anyone else had fouled out,” said Coach Kirker. “We had two or three out here in the final minute with four fouls and I put freshman Kendra Grooms in a tough spot but I thought she did a whale of a job.”
With that one-point advantage, the Lady Huntsmen attempted to ice the clock but that didn’t work and eventually resulted in a pair of free throws by Haley Daniels that gave the home team a 52-51 lead with 46.6 seconds remaining.
A stick back basket gave the lead back to the visitors and after the Lady Dragons turned the ball over on the ensuing inbounds and Huntington’s Conley hit one of two from the line, West Union had a chance to win it and when Kaley Daniels gathered in a loose ball and nailed a three ball from the top of the key, the home side of the gym erupted as their side went ahead 55-54 with 4.9 seconds to play.
Unfortunately for the home team, 4.9 seconds can be an eternity at the end of a basketball game. The Lady Huntsmen inbounded the ball to Conley who dribbled the length of the floor, closely shadowed by West Union’s Kendra Grooms, pulled up just outside the arc, and swished a three-pointer at the buzzer to break the hearts of the home team and give the celebrating Huntington squad an exciting 57-55 victory.
“In the timeout, I told our kids to keep the ball out of Conley’s hands, but is just didn’t work out that way,” said Kirker. “They set some screens, she got the ball, and the next thing I knew the ball was going through the net with no time on the clock.”
In the win, the Lady Huntsmen, now coached by former Western head coach Tiffany Carroll, were led by Collins’ 27 points, 15 of those coming from the free throw line. Riley Black also hit double figures with 10, while last-second hero Conley scored 9.
For West Union, Harley Silvia led the way with 17 points, joined in double figures by Kiersten Rowe who scored 10. Kaley Daniels and Jaycee Baldwin each added 8 points to the West Union effort. Though they hit eight threes in the game, the Lady Dragons were just 17 of 30 from the free throw line.
The West Union girls had to put that loss behind then quickly, as their first Southern Hills Athletic Conference game came on Thursday, Nov. 30 and came with the Eastern Lady Warriors in town. On Saturday, Dec. 2, the Lady Dragons will again be on their home court, hosting a non-conference battle with the Felicity Lady Cardinals.
20 9 9 19 –57
17 9 16 13 –55
Huntington (57): Conley 2 3-8 9, Davis 1 0-1 2, McDonald 1 2-2 4, Black 3 3-5 10, McCloskey 1 0-0 2, Entler 1 1-2 3, Collins 6 15-20 27, Team 15 26-38 57.
W. Union (55): Baldwin 2 3-8 8, Silvia 5 4-10 17, Kirker 0 4-5 4, Rowe 2 4-5 10, Mills 1 0-0 2, H. Daniels 2 2-3 6, K. Daniels 3 0-0 8, Team 14 17-30 55.
Huntington (3): Conley 2, Black 1
W. Union (8): Baldwin 1, Silvia 3, Rowe 2, K. Daniels 2