By Brad Morris
Kenzie McConnell figured the Circleville Tigers would show a little rust on Friday, playing for the first time in 17 days due to COVID-19 quarantine.
“I think we all knew that we weren’t going to be as sharp as we normally are and not on top of our game,” the senior post player said. “We had to get back into our flow and it took us a little while.”
The Tigers trailed visiting Fairfield Union by as many as 11 points during the second quarter and had their Mid-State League Buckeye Division winning streak of 27 games in jeopardy starting the fourth quarter down by seven points.
“We knew we had to lock down defensively in the fourth quarter and limit Fairfield Union’s second-chance points that had been hurting us,” Kenzie McConnell said. “We also had to play better help side defense and pick up our intensity.”
The Tigers checked off all of those boxes, holding the Falcons to just one field goal in the fourth quarter, and finishing the game with a dominating 15-3 run to claim a 50-45 win.
“Our girls kept battling, they fought through fatigue since we hadn’t played in two-and-a-half weeks and they really gutted it out in the fourth quarter,” Circleville coach Steve Kalinoski said. “I’m really proud of their effort and I told the girls after the game that games like that help win championships. We still have a few games to go, so we have to keep battling.”
The Tigers (13-2, 9-0) extended their league winning streak to 28 games and, more importantly, remained two games ahead of Liberty Union (10-4, 8-2) in the loss column in their quest to repeat as league champions.
Kenzie McConnell packed the statistics column for the Tigers, leading all scorers with 26 points to go with 14 rebounds, five blocks and five assists. Faith Yancey scored seven of her eight points in the first half to help keep the Tigers in the game early, and Gabby McConnell scored all seven of her points in the decisive final period of play.
“”Fairfield Union is one of the bigger and stronger teams on our schedule and they did a nice job of clogging the post,” Kalinoski said. “With Kenzie coming off quarantine and missing some shots she is accustomed to making, I’m sure she was a little frustrated in the first half, but we got her the basketball away from the basket more in the second half so she could attack.
“What can you say about Kenzie and all the different ways she can affect a game like she did tonight?”
Trailing 42-35 entering the fourth quarter, the Tigers started to change the complexion of the game by scoring on three of their first four possessions of the period.
Kenzie McConnell drove to the basket for layup and then combined with sister Gabby McConnell to hit 4 of 4 free throws, trimming the Fairfield Union lead down to 42-31 with 6:10 remaining.
The Tigers took their first lead of the night midway through the period when the older McConnell dished to the right corner for a three-pointer from her sister.
Circleville then expanded its lead to 46-42 when Kenzie McConnell hit Gabby McConnell for a layup on the opposite block.
“Gabby really stepped up there for us by hitting that three and then I was able to hit her on that backside seal for another basket,” Kenzie McConnell said. “She’s stepped up in some of our biggest games this season and I’m proud to be her sister.
“I hope this continues to build her confidence, because as a freshman you feel like you have big shoes to step into and your confidence can kinda come and go a little bit. Gabby is capable of doing things like in every game we play.”
After missing their first nine shots from the field in the fourth quarter, Hannah Rauch drained a three-pointer from the top of the key to cut the Tigers’ lead to 46-45 with 1:20 remaining.
Kenzie McConnell provided the answer by driving the right block to make it a three-point game.
The Falcons missed their final pair of shots from three-point range, with Morgan Blakeman and Lily Winter grabbing the key rebounds. Blakeman drained a pair of free throws with 14.6 seconds left to make the final 50-45.
Circleville shot 4 of 9 (44.4 percent) from the field and a perfect 6 of 6 at the free throw line in the fourth quarter. It also commanded the glass, outrebounding Fairfield Union 9-2, led by Kenzie McConnell pulling down five boards.
“That was a big focus of ours in the second half, because Fairfield Union outrebounded us in the first half (16-12) and got some offensive rebounds (five) and we knew that we needed to step it up,” Kenzie McConnell said.
Rauch’s three-pointer turned out to be the lone points for the Falcons over the final 10 minutes of the game, as they missed 16 of their last 17 shots.
Kalinoski complimented the play of freshmen Yancey and Gabby McConnell.
“Faith played really well on both ends of the court,” he said. “We stuck Faith on Hannah Rauch, who was coming off scoring 25 points and has been playing pretty well for Fairfield Union, and she did a nice job of face-guarding her along with Alaina Francis.
“Gabby was coming off quarantine and only was able to practice a couple of times, so we decided to bring her in off the bench. She hit a couple of very big buckets in the fourth and has that capability for us. She still needs to get a little stronger with the basketball, but we are hoping she can finish the season strong for us.”
Marisa Malone paced the Falcons with 11 points, Rauch had 10 and Claire Cooperider added nine. The loss was the fourth for the Falcons (8-5, 7-4) in their last five league games.
Both teams continue league competition today, as the Falcons travel to Hamilton Township and the Tigers host Logan Elm in a preview of their tournament opener slated for Feb. 18.
Kenzie McConnell reflected on what the comeback win means for the Tigers moving forward.
“It was nice to comeback and win the game, although it would be nice if we stop digging ourselves holes we have to climb out of,” she said. “Winning a game like this and finishing like we did should prove to us that we can do anything, starting with winning the league again and meeting one of our goals.”
Fairfield Union 45
FAIRFIELD UNION — Brooke Holt 1-0-2, Elly Lewis 1-0-3, Olivia Spillers 1-0-3, Hannah Rauch 4-0-10, Marisa Malone 5-1-11, Isabella Neal 1-1-3, Claire Cooperider 4-0-9, Annaliese Hartman 1-2-4. Three-point goals — Hannah Rauch (2), Elly Lewis, Olivia Spillers and Claire Cooperider. Total — 18-47 4-9 45.
CIRCLEVILLE — Faith Yancey 3-2-8, Logan Jones 2-0-5, Morgan Blakeman 0-2-2, Alaina Francis 1-0-2, Gabby McConnell 2-2-7, Kenzie McConnell 9-8-26. Three-point goals — Gabby McConnell and Logan Jones. Total — 17-44 14-17 50.
Quarter scores 1 2 3 4 F
Fairfield Union 15 11 16 3 45
Circleville 9 10 16 15 50
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