Iron sharpens iron, and Fayette County relishes the chance to face tough competition. The Tigers came out on top of both ends of Tuesday night’s doubleheader with the McIntosh Chiefs, picking up key region momentum in the process.
The Lady Tigers (15-6, 8-2 in region) had to scratch and claw from the outset, coming alive in the fourth quarter to rally for a 39-34 win over the Chiefs (15-5, 5-4).
“The first time we played them, we had to battle back, and this time was a battle again,” said Fayette coach John Strickland. “McIntosh is a tough matchup, so it’s a good win for us.”
After DeLayne Rotolo opened the scoring for McIntosh, the Tigers answered emphatically with an 11-0 run, keyed by four points in the paint from Jazlyne Hanson, five from Darryl Langford, and a drive to the hoop from Maegan Barkley. Rylee Calhoun and Rotolo each hit a 3-pointer to pull the Chiefs back within three points, but Rikkelle Miller grabbed the momentum back with her own trey to make it a 14-8 Tiger lead after one quarter.
Using patience and ball movement, the Chiefs were able to control the tempo in the second quarter and make their move. Calhoun fed Mikayla Rivers and Kennedi Rivers as the gap shrank. Savannah Soles and Calhoun each hit a three as the game evened up, and Rotolo sank another 3-pointer to put McIntosh in front 21-18 at halftime.
Calhoun kept up the energy in the third, draining another three and scoring on a runner to close out the third with a 28-22 lead.
Down to the final frame, the Tigers kicked up the intensity on defense, frustrating the Chiefs with full-court pressure.
“We were down, and we knew we had to go,” said Strickland.
When they needed her most, senior Darryl Langford was at her best. Not only did she lead her Tigers in scoring with 16 points, she pulled down key rebound after rebound in the fourth quarter and sank 8 of her last 9 free throw attempts.
“She was tough down the stretch,” said Strickland. “She’s a senior, and that’s what you expect from your seniors.”
The Tigers had the game tied back up midway through the frame, and a Trinity Brown three-point play and a Naomi Franco bucket capped off a 14-2 run that put them ahead to stay. McIntosh scored two buckets in the waning moments, but it was too late in a 39-34 Fayette win.
The Fayette County boys (17-5, 10-0) took punches from the Chiefs (9-11, 5-4) early and countered, taking a 61-49 win and sealing up a 17th straight state playoff berth. Their flawless region mark has clinched them an automatic berth in the tournament, something that always makes their coach proud.
“With that win, we’ve done something that we always want to do. We’ve qualified for the state tournament,” beamed coach Andre Flynn. “I’m always happy about that.”
Just like when they met in December, McIntosh came out of the gates with energy and pushed the Tigers.
“Whenever you can beat a team in the region and in the county, it’s good because you’re going to get everybody’s best shot,” said Flynn. “McIntosh came out and played, and I knew it was coming. Jason (Eisele) does a good job with them. They’re going to come out and compete.”
The Chiefs did just that, Garrett LeClaire and Cole Guenther each sinking a 3-pointer for a quick 6-0 lead. Fayette responded with a Jaylen Holloway three and a Terrell Bradley bucket in the paint to take the lead, but the Chiefs finished off the frame with baskets by Bruce Carpenter and Guenther for a 10-7 advantage.
To kick off the second quarter, the Tigers lit the fire on defense, frustrating the Chiefs and turning turnovers into points. Phillip Young tied the game on a three, and Holloway ripped off five-straight points.
“We always know teams are going to come at us, and when they come at us, we have to be able to handle it,” said Flynn. “I told them it’s going to be a war, and they want to beat you. You’ve got to step up.”
One player that has made a habit of stepping up lately is Kahmonnie Willis, the Tigers’ designated outside shooter. He capped off a 15-2 run with a steal and layup and closed out the half with a 3-pointer to give the Tigers a 25-20 lead. When he’s hot, he makes the whole team better.
“He’s our shooter, and all we want him to do it shoot,” said Flynn. “He’s given us a big lift on the outside. He makes teams open up, and that’s when Noah (Gurley) can go to work inside.”
Willis kept up his hot shooting with a 3-pointer to start the second half. McIntosh kept digging, using a pair of buckets in the paint from Joseph Cummings to stay within double-digits. Austin Nesmith and Carpenter traded threes, and Willis finished the third with five-straight points to inflate the lead to 46-30 after three quarters.
McIntosh got 3-pointers in the fourth from Will Stowman, Mitch Maxwell, Guenther, and Carpenter, but it wasn’t enough to gain serious ground. Fayette had a bit of fun in the final frame, taking to the skies with a pair of Nesmith to Noah Gurley alley oops. Gurley finished the night with a flourish, throwing down a vicious tomahawk dunk for the final points in a 61-49 win.
Kahmonnie Willis led the Tigers with 18 points, followed by Phillip Young with 14 points and 8 rebounds, and Jaylen Holloway with 10 points and 6 rebounds. Noah Gurley filled up the stat sheet with 10 points, 11 rebounds, and 6 blocks.
Chaz Hardin led the Chiefs with 15 points, and Cole Guenther added 12 points.
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