by Rob Grubbs
The McIntosh Chiefs opened their basketball season Tuesday night when they hosted an area foe, the East Coweta Indians.
While both McIntosh teams went to the state playoffs last year, each is looking at a season of transition. The girls welcome a new coach in Rick Fontaine, their third in the past three seasons, while the boys look to replace three key starters. After the Lady Chiefs outlasted a spirited effort by the Lady Indians to win 56-44, the boys rallied from a 20-point deficit to pull within four with 23 seconds left but ran out of gas at the end and lost 82-73.
Fontaine inherits an interesting dynamic with his initial team. While they have three experienced seniors in Rylee Calhoun, Kennedi Miller, and Anna Muh, the rest of the rotation is comprised of freshman and sophomores. After falling behind 5-0, the Chiefs got on the board for the first points of the season when Keara Collins hit a jumper from the lane. With the Indian defense keying heavily on Calhoun, she beat a double team with a nice pass to Madison Howard for an easy lay-in to give McIntosh their first lead at 9-7.
After the Indians took their largest lead of the night at 13-10, the Chiefs ended the second quarter on a 17-4 run led by freshman guard Carrie Consolino, who introduced herself as a quick, talented guard who ran the floor and made smart decisions. With senior guard Miller out with a slight injury, Consolino and the defense didn’t miss a beat. With three first-time players on the floor, Calhoun took on the leadership role as she did all the little things to prolong the run, and Muh was a force on the inside and on the boards.
A basket by Olivia Henders to start the fourth gave the Chiefs their largest lead of the evening and closed things out for Fontaine’s first Georgia high school win.
The influence of Calhoun and Muh was not lost on the winning coach.
“We had four freshman and a sophomore who got significant minutes tonight, so Rylee and Anna really took control and had to be coaches on the floor,” said Fontaine. “We just need to settle down a little, cut down on the unforced turnovers, and play our game, but it was good to get the win.”
Consolino lead all with 15 points, while Howard added 10, Calhoun had 9, and Muh chipped in 7 with 11 rebounds.
For the boys, Coach Jason Eisele enters his 17th season at the helm of the Chiefs. While graduation hit hard, he does return a talented core in guards Naj Ashley-Emory and Bruce Carpenter. With the addition of newcomer Wyatt Patton to provide some size underneath, he has what he called “not a young team, but we are somewhat inexperienced.”
The Indians presented an excellent opening challenge for the Chiefs. They have a deep, athletic roster and apply constant pressure up and down the court. Their defense caused the new-look Chiefs multiple matchup problems as they jumped out to a 9-0 lead.
The lead continued to grow, and midway through the third quarter the Chiefs found themselves down by 20. Instead of giving in, they dug deep and started a run of their own. A Camerin Lyons three pointer jumpstarted the Chief offense, and their confidence slowly began to build. Ashley-Emory banked in a 3-pointer at the end of the third quarter that got the early-season crowd juiced with enthusiasm.
Daniel Ogle hit a key three and with two minutes left, and Chiefs found themselves within seven. With the Indians in a four-corners look, Patton stopped a drive to the basket with an emphatic block at the rim resulting in a Carpenter basket to bring McIntosh within four with 23 seconds remaining. It was as close as they would get as the Indians closed the game out from the free throw line for the 82-73 victory.
“We battled back tonight, and I am proud of the effort,” said Eisele. “We have a lot of mental mistakes to clean up. Our goal in non-region games is always to get better, and we did that as the game went on tonight. A lot of teams in our region (3-AAAAA) play the same style as East Coweta, so it is always good to face a team like that.”
Lyons led the Chiefs balanced scoring attack with 17 points, Ashley-Emory had 16, and Carpenter added 13. In all, five Chiefs scored in double figures, including Patton with 11 and Burke Berry with 10 off the bench. For the Indians, Chris Youngblood led all scorers with 23 and Fernandez Jones added 20.
The Chiefs are off through the Thanksgiving and will return to face Troup County on the road on November 27.