By Brad Morris
ASHVILLE — While the stakes weren’t nearly as high on Friday, Circleville would have preferred to not have a feeling of déjà vu.
Foul trouble was a significant factor in a heartbreaking overtime loss last season in a regional final against Tri-Valley that brought an unbeaten and top-ranked campaign to a premature conclusion.
Fast forward to the second game of this season and foul difficulty again reared its ugly head. Fortunately, for the Tigers, this time they were able to knock down enough free throws in the closing minutes to hold off host Teays Valley for a 52-47 Mid-State League Buckeye Division win.
“I felt we got a little tired in the second half and it showed in our play at both ends of the court,” Circleville coach Steve Kalinoski said. “We talked to the girls about being a little more aggressive defensively at halftime since we were in a good situation foul wise, but then we started reaching when we got tired and got in a tough situation.”
The Tigers two returning starters from that regional runner-up squad — seniors Kenzie McConnell and Jaylah Captain — combined for 33 points, but both battled foul difficulty in the second half.
McConnell picked up her fourth foul in the closing seconds of the third quarter and didn’t return to the game until 4:06 remained. Captain fouled out with 62 seconds still showing on the clock.
“It’s no secret that those two are the backbone to much of what we want to do on the basketball court and having both Kenzie and Jaylah in foul trouble obviously changes the game,” Kalinoski said. “It’s been a crazy year with COVID-19 and the limited amount of time we’ve been on the court, so we’re still trying to figure out our lineup, who fits best where and what they can contribute with replacing three starters from last season.”
Teays Valley (0-3, 0-2) took its first lead since the opening quarter when Alyssa Horsley split a pair of free throws to make it 39-38 early in the fourth quarter.
Captain countered with a three-pointer from the right wing to temporarily give the Tigers (2-0, 2-0) the lead before Kennedy Younkin took a feed from Alyssa Horsley and scored two inside to again tie the game.
The Tigers scored the rest of their 14 fourth-quarter points on the charity stripe, including Alaina Francis splitting a pair of free throws that gave CHS the lead for good at 42-41 with 5:50 remaining.
A pair of free throws from Morgan Blakeman with 1:53 left seemed to put the Tigers on firmer footing with a 48-42 lead, but the Vikings scored five of the next six points to keep the game tight. Bush capped the mini-run with a three-pointer from the top of the key to trim the Tigers’ lead to 49-47 with 1:02 remaining.
That’s as close as the Vikings were able to come as their final four possessions ended with three missed shots and a turnover, while the Tigers drained three more free throws, with the final two coming from Kenzie McConnell.
Circleville made 11 of 18 (61.1 percent) free throws it attempted in the fourth quarter, compared to Teays Valley only hitting 2 of 7 (28.6 percent).
The Vikings opened the game hot from three-point range, draining five triples in the first quarter and hitting 6 of 9 (66.7 percent) shots.
“We’re becoming more patient running our offense and executing it and we’re starting to see the results of that,” Teays Valley coach Trevor Younkin said. “We were able to get the ball inside to Kennedy and allow their defense to collapse a bit and then that allowed us to take advantage of Kennedy’s good passing skills to get open looks from three that our girls knocked down.”
Jenna Horsley led the way by connecting on three of the four three-pointers she shot.
“Jenna got off to a great start for Teays Valley, so we started face-guarding her with Alaina Francis and Faith Yancey and they both did a nice job,” Kalinoski said.
The Tigers, however, still managed to end the quarter with a 20-17 lead, thanks in large part to Kenzie McConnell scoring 10 points on 4 of 5 (80 percent) shooting and Captain chipping in seven points.
Teays Valley went cold from the field in the second quarter, connecting on just 1 of 9 (11.1 percent) shots — a three-pointer with 6:07 remaining before halftime off the shooting hand of Bush.
Circleville used the drought to assemble an 11-0 run, with Kenzie McConnell and Captain scoring four points apiece, to take a 33-20 lead into halftime.
“Kenzie is a really good player and a very difficult matchup with her experience, athleticism and strength,” Younkin praised. “You combine that with the pick-and-roll with Jaylah and Kenzie, and that’s difficult to stop.”
Younkin packed the Vikings’ defense around the basket in the third quarter and limited the Tigers to 2 of 8 (25 percent) shooting.
“We know teams are going to do that to us to try and take away Kenzie inside and our penetration to the basket, so we know we are going to have open threes and we need to knock them down,” Kalinoski said. “Gabby McConnell hit a three there for us during a dry spell, but that’s something we’ll continue to work on.”
“We looked at the halftime stats, and Kenzie, Jaylah and Morgan Blakeman had practically scored all of Circleville’s points (30 of 33),” Younkin said. “We decided to play off their other two players, pack it in and make them beat us from outside. I’m sure that’s a look Circleville will see a lot of this season.”
On the other end of the court, the Vikings started driving to the basket more and trimmed that aforementioned 13-point halftime deficit down to just 38-36.
Teays Valley shot 7 of 11 (63.6 percent) during the run, led by Younkin scoring seven points.
“We were able to get some drives to the basket with our guards and we also mixed in isolating Kennedy some and allowing her to work inside to score,” Younkin said.
Kenzie McConnell finished the night with a game-high 17 points to go with six rebounds and three blocks, All but three of those points were scored in the first half. Captain followed with 16 points and Blakeman had 11 points and five rebounds.
“This was Kenzie’s first game of the season and she only had six practices going into it with being in quarantine a few times,” Kalinoski said. “Kenzie is one of our kids who is trying to get into basketball shape after a great volleyball season and getting her legs fully under her.”
Jenna Horsley led a balanced scoring sheet for the Vikings with 11 points, Younkin accounted for 10 points, five assists and five rebounds, and Bush turned in nine points, four rebounds and three assists.
With just three practices and two scrimmages before their first game this season, Younkin can see his young team that starts two freshmen making progress since their opening 77-49 loss to Worthington Christian, an annual Central District power in Division III.
“I talked to the girls after the game about this being a stepping stone. We don’t want to talk about moral victories or anything like that, but we have a few players who gained experience last year and we added a couple of freshmen this season who bring different things to the floor and we are working on incorporating those pieces together and playing inside-out,” Younkin said. “I can see we’re getting better on the court, we’re getting closer and I know the victories will come if we continue to work on climbing the hill.”
The Vikings return to action this afternoon at Lancaster for a non-league game, while the Tigers continue league play on Tuesday when they host Bloom-Carroll.
Teays Valley 47
CIRCLEVILLE — Faith Yancey 0-1-1, Logan Jones 0-1-1, Alaina Francis 1-1-3, Morgan Blakeman 3-4-11, Gabby McConnell 1-0-3, Jaylah Captain 4-6-16, Kenzie McConnell 6-5-17. Three-point goals — Jaylah Captain (2), Gabby McConnell and Morgan Blakeman. Total — 15-37 18-27 52.
TEAYS VALLEY — Aimee Watson 1-0-2, Jenna Horsley 4-0-11, Kennedy Younkin 4-2-10, Ashley DeWeese 3-0-7, Megan Bush 3-1-9, Alyssa Horsley 2-1-6, Alyssa Brown 1-0-2. Three-point goals — Jenna Horsley (3), Megan Bush (2), Ashley DeWeese and Alyssa Horsley. Total — 18-39 4-11 47.
Quarter scores 1 2 3 4 F
Circleville 20 13 5 14 52
Teays Valley 17 4 15 11 47
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