The McIntosh Chiefs tipped off region play with a bang, sweeping the Whitewater Wildcats Friday night. The Lady Chiefs took the opener 49-35, and the Chief boys won 58-49 in the finale.
The victory for the Lady Chiefs was a continuation of the hot start to their season that has seen their gritty intensity pay off in tough defensive play and smart offensive production.
“I’d like to think that’s McIntosh basketball.I’d like to think that we are a disciplined enough team, and we understand how to attack different sets, different defenses,” said coach David Dowse. “As pleased as I am with where we are right now, I know there’s still a lot of room for improvement. We can get a lot better than this. I’m excited, and the girls are excited.”
The game featured two well-coached squads with plenty of talent, and that was apparent as both teams scrapped for momentum early. Defensive intensity marked the first quarter as buckets were hard to come by. McIntosh opened the scoring, Rylee Calhoun feeding DeLayne Rotolo cutting to the basket for two, but Whitewater would grab the lead on a Courtney Smith three. Janiya Jones got to the hoop to extend the Cats’ lead to 8-4.
Rotolo hit from deep to put the Chiefs ahead at 9-8. Smith dished to Destiny Cruz for a pair as Whitewater tied the game back up for the last time at 10-10. Good ball movement set up another Rotolo three-pointer, and she notched two more on a steal and layup to close the quarter on an 11-2 run to give McIntosh a 15-10 lead after the first quarter.
McIntosh would take that small lead and build on it, never trailing again against the lone local girls team to make the playoffs last year.
“I’m very proud of the way we competed. I’m especially proud of the way we battled their size,” praised Dowse. “We kept a lot of balls alive on the offensive end. Mikayla [Rivers] and Savannah [Soles] did some good work on the offensive glass giving us second shot opportunities.”
The Chiefs kept up the pressure, Rivers pulling down a board and kicking it out to Calhoun for three. Calhoun would share the wealth, dishing to Soles and Kennedi Miller for buckets as the lead grew to 26-16 at halftime.
Soles scored five points early in the second half as the lead swelled. Another Calhoun three helped it grow as high as 15 points. Smith kept pushing for the Wildcats, hitting a three and a late jumper to keep within 39-28 at the end of the quarter.
Smith kept up her hot shooting to trim the gap to single digits at the start of the fourth, but Calhoun drained another three to cool off their momentum. Rivers added a pair of key buckets in the paint to put the game out of reach as the Chiefs coasted late to the 49-35 victory.
DeLayne Rotolo and Rylee Calhoun shared the scoring lead for McIntosh with 15 points apiece. Rotolo added 7 rebounds, while Calhoun notched 6 assists and 4 steals.
Courtney Smith paced the Wildcats with 17 points, followed by Janiya Jones with 12. Jada Claude pulled down 8 rebounds.
The win ran the Lady Chiefs’ record to 5-0. They would suffer their first loss of the season Saturday at Lambert.
In the boys game, McIntosh followed the same pattern, shaking off a slow start to take the lead and never let it go.
The Chiefs know they are a different team from the last few seasons when they had a core that has since gone on to play college ball, but that doesn’t mean they’re backing down. They still have the ammo to succeed, it will just be with some new faces. The non-region schedule showed them how close they are to competing.
“I thought we played a pretty tough non-region schedule for us, kind of rebuilding as we are, to get ready for region play,” said coach Jason Eisele. “I told the guys before the game that after tonight we’re either going to be in first place or last place (in the region), so we might as well be in first place.”
The opener was yet another tough test for the Chiefs against a good Wildcat squad..
“That’s a pretty good Whitewater team. They battled the whole way. They’ve got some good players, and they’re well coached,” said Eisele of the region foes pushing his crew to the limit. “We’re growing up a game at a time I think. That’s the goal.”
The win over Whitewater was another step in the right direction for the Chiefs, and they’ve got on their walking shoes.
“We’re getting better at executing. We just have to work on the small details, keep tightening the screws,” said Eisele, adding that reviewing their film shows they have plenty of room for improvement. “We’re playing the long game. We’ll just keep hammering at that rock until it splits. We’ll chip away a little bit at a time and get better each time we step on the court.”
Playing in front of a hostile crowd, it was Whitewater that pulled in front at the outset. Copeland Jackson scored the game’s first five points and sank a trio of three-pointers in the first quarter.
The Chiefs took their punches and responded, Will Stowman hitting his own long ball to cut the gap. McIntosh took their first lead at 8-7 on a Chris Pearson three, but Jackson hit two more of his own. Bruce Carpenter sank a trey for the Chiefs to cut it to a 15-13 Whitewater lead at the end of the first, then hit again to take the lead at 18-17 early in the second. McIntosh would not trail again.
Mitch Maxwell contributed to the fun with his own three, and Chaz Harden added a three-point play as the lead grew. Cole Guenther started heating up for the Chiefs, hitting from the top of the key, sinking a trey, and getting to the hoop for a layup to cap off a 15-2 run.
Josh Anthony helped the Cats cut into the lead with five straight points, but McIntosh would claim a 35-25 halftime lead on a Naj Ashley-Emory bucket before the buzzer.
Anthony kept his squad pushing, surging out of the half with a finger roll. The Chiefs answered with a pair of Joseph Cummings’s buckets, but Whitewater would get a pair of treys from Jackson and one from K’won Bush as they pulled within 41-37 at the end of the third.
Garrett LeClaire got the Chiefs a little cushion with a steal and layup to start the fourth, but the Cats kept coming. Anthony drove and dished to J’Vonne Bradley for two, and Jackson hit another three-pointer to claw back within 51-44.
Mitch Maxwell’s three with just over two minutes to play helped ice the game, and the Chiefs would finish strong at the free throw line for the 58-49 win.
In a balanced team effort, Joseph Cummings led the Chiefs in scoring with 12 points, Chaz Hardin adding 11. Cummings added 7 rebounds, and Ben Bryant pulled down 6.
The Wildcats will get their chance for revenge when they host the Chiefs January 17.