by Rob Grubbs
The stars were out Tuesday night as the McIntosh Chiefs traveled to Whitewater for an important Region 3-AAAAA matchup. Lady Wildcat Courtney Smith and Chief Naj Ashley-Emory each led their teams to dramatic wins, with Smith scoring 30 points and Ashley-Emory posting a career-high 37 in a game that went to overtime.
In the girls game, the Wildcats (11-8) fell behind early. Rylee Calhoun led the Chiefs to a quick 11-3 lead midway through the first quarter and seemed to be on the verge of a blowout. However, Whitewater slowly climbed back into the game, Coach Rashad Muhyee attributing the slow start to a change in strategy before the game.
“We had a different game plan tonight,” he said. “Normally we are a man defense team. We have played that all year, but I told them we are going to do something different. I think that threw us off in the first quarter because we are normally aggressive, get in your face, but #5 for McIntosh (Carrie Consolino) is so quick, we had to figure a way to keep her out of the lane.”
The Wildcats were down 15-9 at the half, but with a Jada Claude bank-shot three, a Smith three, another strong layup by Claude, and a Sole Chinnery three, they completed an 11-0 run to take their first lead.
Just like the start of the game, Whitewater got off to a slow start in the third and found themselves down by seven late in the quarter, when Smith began to take the game over. She scored 16 in the fourth quarter, all from the free throw line as her drives to the basket were constantly giving her scoring opportunities.
She finished by going 16 for 18 from the free throw line in the last eight minutes.
“She’s been like that for four years,” said Muhyee. “She does a really good job on getting the routine down. She does the exact same thing every time, the routine is the key for her. She gets up there, takes a couple of dribbles, and bends her knees and pops her wrists.”
Claude added 12 points and 12 rebounds for the Wildcats, while McIntosh got balanced scoring, with Consolino leading with 12 and Madison Howard and Calhoun each with 10.
The boys game was a back-and-forth affair. Neither could push a lead out past double digits, and there were 21 overall lead changes. The Wildcats had a strong presence underneath with Omar Ndengey’s quick moves to the rim, and K’won Bush was hot from the outside, where he made make six 3-pointers.
For the Chiefs, their senior guard duo of Bruce Carpenter and Ashley-Emory kept them in the game, while Wyatt Paxton handled the dirty work in the paint. With McIntosh up 47-38 right before at the end of the third quarter, the Wildcats stormed back when Bush hit three consecutive 3-pointers and Ndengey got free in the lane for a crowd-pleasing dunk.
The Wildcats had a three-point lead in the closing seconds, but Carpenter tied the game with less than two seconds to force the overtime period. With both teams in the double bonus, most of the scoring came from the free-throw line, and with 13 seconds left and the game tied, Ashley-Emory found himself at the charity stripe with the chance to put it away, he made both for the 71-69 victory.
“I just wanted to make sure I made the shot,” said Ashley-Emory. “My team was depending on me, and I had all of them on my back, so I had to get it done.”
McIntosh Head Coach Jason Eisele was encouraged afterwards.
“We came into this game thinking we could hang with these guys, they have a good program and they shoot the lights out obviously,” he said. “At our place earlier this year, we were tied with them at half and we came out and laid an egg in the second half and lost by 20. We wanted to play a full 32 minutes, and we did just enough to give ourselves a shot. We have not been a resilient bunch, so hopefully this will help us grow up a little bit and help us understand that every possession counts.”
In addition to Ashley-Emory’s 37, Carpenter had 16 points, and Camerin Lyons added 11 for the Chiefs. Bush led Whitewater with 24, and Ndengey was right behind him with 22.
The region battles continue as Whitewater will play Starr’s Mill Saturday night while McIntosh goes to Fayette County on Tuesday night.
To see more photos, click here.