Fresh from the holiday break and an extra weekend of rest from the threat of bad weather, the Fayette County Tigers tipped off 2017 with a doubleheader sweep of Starr’s Mill Tuesday night.
The Lady Tigers took the top half of the night, holding off the Panthers 45-38. Starr’s Mill provided a different look for the Tigers, and they were happy to come away with the win.
“It was a good win for us,” said coach John Strickland. “Especially playing a team with shooters and trying to find the shooters, it’s a different matchup for us.”
Strickland tries to prepare his team for such challenges with a tough schedule, something they definitely experienced through holiday tournament play. He’s been pleased with their progress with key region games looming.
“I like where we’re at,” said Strickland. “Now we can settle in and play our region teams. You can start locking things in a little bit.”
Anytime the Tigers tried to pull away, the Panthers clawed back. Rikkelle Miller staked Fayette to a 22-13 lead with a 3-pointer, but Starr’s Mill closed the half on an 8-2 run. Alyssa Angelo’s trey and a Kelly Kozusko putback sliced the deficit to 24-21 at halftime.
Starr’s Mill used the long ball to take the lead in the third quarter, Spencer Dawson, Emily Nieuwstraten, and Alice Anne Hudson each hitting a three to grab a small advantage. Fayette countered with defense, Darryl Langford and Trinity Brown both notching a steal and layup to regain the lead. Miller sank another 3-pointer as Fayette headed into the fourth leading 35-31.
Fayette turned up the heat in the post early in the fourth, expanding their lead to nine points on buckets from Naomi Franco and Jazlyne Hanson. Hudson tried to keep her team close with a pair of treys, but five points would be as close as they could get late. Sidney Sims’s drive for a pair help put the game away in the waning moments for a 45-38 win.
The Fayette boys took the Panthers’ punches early and slowly pulled away for an 81-63 victory.
The Tigers know they picked up a quality win against a strong opponent.
“I give a lot of credit to Starr’s Mill,” said Fayette coach Andre Flynn. “They played hard. They’ve got a good young team.”
Flynn’s squad has big aspirations, and they’re getting closer to realizing their potential.
“I’m getting very impressed with us,” said Flynn, who wants his team to run more to improve their scoring in region play. “We play as a team, but we’ve got a long way to go.”
The first quarter saw both sides grasping for momentum as the lead swayed back-and-forth. Nick Karli opened the scoring with a long jumper for the Panthers, but Austin Nesmith answered with a 3-pointer. After Nate Allison netted two on a putback, Nesmith hit another three. Fayette surged in front by six, but the Panthers quickly sliced it back down, taking the lead at 18-17 with treys from Drew Hudson and Zach Pina.
The Tigers closed out the quarter strong with buckets from two key performers, Kahmonnie Willis and Nesmith, for a 21-18 advantage. Willis drew the start as an injury replacement as took advantage of his opportunity with 19 points. Nesmith dominated from the outset, notching 14 points in the first quarter.
“My guy Austin’s come a long way,” said Flynn, praising Nesmith’s heart and play on both ends of the court. “He’s our leader. We’re going to see how far he can take us.”
Starr’s Mill took their last lead of the night early in the second quarter at 22-21 on a Chase Sands bucket in the paint. Phillip Young put the Tigers back in front with a jumper as they ripped off a 10-1 run, capped off with a Noah Gurley 3-pointer. The lead hit double digits with flair as Willis hit a bomb and Gurley threw down a vicious putback dunk.
Fayette built on its 42-28 halftime lead with a pair of treys. Starr’s Mill wouldn’t go away, Julian Lynch providing a spark off the bench and Pina hitting a corner three and Karli stealing the ball and sinking a floater at the buzzer to make it 61-45 heading into the fourth.
The Tigers picked up the pace in the final frame, holding off the Panthers for a commanding 81-63 win.
Austin Nesmith finished the night with a stellar 29 points and 13 assists. Noah Gurley filled the stat sheet with 17 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3 steals. Kahmonnie Willis was hot, notching 19 points.
Nate Allison paced the Panthers with 22 points and 8 rebounds. Drew Hudson tallied 17 points, and Nick Karli added 11 points, 6 assists, and 3 steals.
The teams will meet again on Starr’s Mill’s court January 27.
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