Heart and hustle. The McIntosh Lady Chiefs did what they do best, battling their way to a 62-57 victory against the Harris County Tigers Friday night.
“They just fight, and they scrap,” said McIntosh coach David Dowse of his team. “Tonight, as much as any game we’ve played this year, everybody played within themselves and played their role.”
The Chiefs faced down 6’5” Jessika Carter, one of the top players in the state, and her talented team. A tough schedule that included three games against highly-ranked Griffin has McIntosh battle tested.
“Harris County has some great players. You’ve got to tip your hat to them,” said Dowse. “(Carter) scored some on us because she’s a great player, but we weren’t scared. We were excited about the opportunity. I think we stayed excited the whole way, even when we were down.”
Harris County set out to build on their height advantage in the post, lobbing the ball into Carter in the paint. Carter converted the game’s first points on that play, sinking a turnaround jumper. Ty Johnson made it a 4-0 lead, corralling a rebound and putting it in for two.
McIntosh countered offensively with what they do best, moving the ball and patiently waiting for the open shot. Savannah Soles was the recipient, pulling the trigger for two 3-pointers to tie the game at 6-6. A Rylee Calhoun three gave the Chiefs their first lead at 9-8.
Taziha Fanning and Carter put the Tigers back in front. Anna Muh hit a jumper at the buzzer to keep the Chiefs within 12-11 at the end of the first quarter.
DeLayne Rotolo shot McIntosh in front to start the second with a 3-pointer, but it was the Tigers who would build momentum as they ripped off a 12-0 run to lead 24-14. McIntosh kept their composure, upping the pressure on defense and responding with their own 11-2 run. Soles and Calhoun each hit from deep to slice the gap. Mikayla Rivers stole a pass, handing it off to Rotolo who launched a full-court pass to a wide-open Kennedi Miller to get back within 26-25 at halftime.
McIntosh kept pace in the third quarter, reeling the Tigers back in each time they tried to pull away. Soles, Rotolo, and Calhoun sank threes, and Miller notched a steal and layup to tie the game back up at 37-37.
Keyed by a Ny’Azhja Carter 3-pointer, Harris County held a 44-39 lead going into the final frame when the Chiefs made their move. Bombs from Soles and Calhoun got the margin back within one point midway through the fourth. As the Chiefs ratcheted up the full court press on defense, the Tigers started to crack. Maddie Emmet, who was part of the crew assigned the unenviable task of guarding Carter, started marking her mark on the offensive end, scoring four straight points as the Chiefs pulled ahead 56-51 with 2:14 to play.
“Whoever was in that spot, Maddie, Mikayla, or Anna, we said stay with (Carter) as best you can. Play aggressively,” said Dowse. “Maddie had a huge bucket when she caught it, attacked the basket, and finished. She played great.”
Harris County battled back within one point, setting up a showdown at the finish. Calhoun hit a pair of freebies, and the Tigers missed two of their own. After the Chiefs missed the front end of a one-and-one, Fanning battled for a basket in the paint to get back within 59-57 with 19 seconds to play.
On the ensuing possession, Miller was intentionally fouled and hit her first free throw. She missed the second, but Rotolo chased it down to draw another foul. Rotolo hit both to seal up the 62-57 and send the Chiefs into the second round at state.
Rylee Calhoun led the way in scoring with 19 points, followed by Savannah Soles with 17. DeLayne Rotolo chipped in 10 points, 5 assists, and 5 rebounds.
The Starr’s Mill Panthers are going where they’ve only been once following a 64-58 win over the Harris County Tigers Saturday night. For only the second time in school history, the Panthers are headed to the Sweet Sixteen.
“I’m proud of us,” said head coach Brandon Hutchins. “What else can you ask for?”
The Panthers battled adversity to roll on, playing shorthanded at point guard with Zach Pina severely limited by injury and Kyle Evert fighting sickness all week.
“The other guys stepped up. That’s what they’ve done all year,” said Hutchins. “We’ve got some depth, and guys came in and played hard.”
Starr’s Mill dominated the game from the outset. Their zone defense was effective, keeping the Tigers from working the ball inside to the post and instead settling for outside shots. Offensively, the Panthers were able to patiently crack the trap and consistently feed Nate Allison in the paint.
Allison started the night with a baseline layup, and Julian Lynch followed with a basket for a 4-0 lead. Talique Williams countered with a double-pump bucket, but it would be slow going for his Tigers. Starr’s Mill poured in six straight points, then, after a Riqueito Leonard 3-pointer, another five-point run, keyed by an Evert three, made it a 15-5 lead after one quarter.
The Panthers’ unselfishness was on display starting the second, Lynch dishing to Nick Karli who passed off to Drew Hudson for an easy two. Hudson added a 3-pointer as the lead swelled to 15 points. Allison pulled down a rebound and launched a long outlet pass to Evert, whose layup wouldn’t fall, but Lynch followed with a tip-in. Two treys from Harris County cooled the momentum briefly, but a slick euro step basket by Lynch pushed the lead to 31-15 at halftime.
Starr’s Mill did not ease up to start the second half. Their lead ballooned as large as 17, keyed by a pair of threes from Hudson, and a dunk by Allison.
Running out of time, the Tigers got desperate and cranked up the pressure on defense, slowly chipping away at the deficit. They would cut it as close as six points on a JT Mann 3-pointer that would be the game’s final points.
The Panthers took the punches, but got the buckets they needed to move on.
“When all is said and done, we’re still advancing,” said Hutchins. “We did what we had to do to win.”
Drew Hudson led the way against Harris County with 20 points, followed by Nate Allison with 17.