by Riley Hicks
Friday night, the Whitewater Wildcats hoped to defend their home court and upset the Fayette County Tigers. In each game, it took the Tigers until the fourth quarter to finally seal the victories and keep their winning streaks against the Wildcats alive.
In the girls game, the Lady Tigers defeated the Wildcats 51-31 behind leading scorer and softball sensation Rikkelle Miller, who had 18-points. `
“It was just a good slugfest,” Fayette girls head coach John Strickland said. “In the first half, we were just trying to figure each other out, this being the first time seeing each other this year. In the second half we made some adjustments.”
Whitewater was the first to put points on the board on a bucket from Jada Claude. Miller drained a 3-pointer, and not soon after, Maegan Barkley forced a steal and sprinted to the basket to give Fayette its first lead of the game. Barkley closed the first period with a buzzer-beater to give the Tigers a 12-8 lead.
Whitewater had a hard time all night limiting the Tigers in the paint. Sophomore Naomi Franco was locked in down low, pulling in rebounds and swatting away shots on defense and putting in buckets on the offensive end.
“She defends around the rim. She got a lot of key rebounds and pushouts that were able to get the break going,” Strickland said.
During the second quarter, Fayette stretched their lead to eight and looked to take all of the momentum into the half, but Whitewater’s Courtney Smith managed to draw two fouls late and went to the line to make 3-of-4. On the lone miss, Maya Bryant captured the rebound and put it back in for two to close the gap to 20-17 at the half.
The Tigers recaptured the momentum by going on 6-0 run at the start of the third to distance themselves from Whitewater. The bulk of their points came in transition, driving to the basket and converting layups.
Heading into the fourth quarter, the score was 35-25 in favor of Fayette. Behind Miller and Barkley, who had 12 points of her own, the Tigers controlled the fourth period by going on a 16-4 run and opening up a chance for both teams to sub in younger players.
Whitewater was limited by injuries down the stretch. Martina Takang was battled through an injury, and they lost Cambria Caliendo for much of the night, leaving them down to just two ball handers. Smith (10 points) and Claude (8 points) carried the bulk of the load in the loss.
In the boys game, the Wildcats almost managed to capture the upset but relinquished the lead late in the fourth as the Tigers won 68-61.
“I am proud of the guys. We are young so we are going to be up and down,” Fayette head coach Andre Flynn said. “I like how we battled, Whitewater was shooting everything the first half, but we stayed the course.”
Whitewater’s’ K’won Bush, opened the game with the hot hand draining back-to-back 3-pointers as part of his 14-point first half. The Wildcats surged ahead from the opening tip, capturing their largest lead of the game at 13-2.
Fayette refused to be put away and battled back with strong shooting beyond the arc. They even managed to jump out front with 1:50 left in the first period, but the momentum shifted back to Whitewater following a three from C.J. Jackson, and the Wildcats held a 23-18 lead after the first quarter.
Whitewater maintained its early lead by winning the rebounding battle in the second. Their strong shooting also remained with Jackson and Bush each hitting two more treys. Going into the half, the score was 35-28 in favor of the Wildcats.
Like the first half, the Tigers clawed back with their own long-range barrage, the majority coming from Ricky Knight and JeKobe Coleman, who tied the game with 3:49 left in the third.
The back-and-forth battle electrified both student sections that had been quiet most of the night, lending a bit of extra energy to every basket down the stretch.
Whitewater kept their composure and held a one-point lead heading into the final frame. The fourth opened in favor of the Cats following two more Tiger technicals. Thiey hit all four freebies to grab a five-point lead, but again Fayette closed the gap and then jumped ahead. The nail in the coffin came in the form of a 3-pointer by Coleman and a fadeaway jumper from Josh Dupree.
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