By JONATHAN GREENE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
The Princeton Tigerettes are a different team when McKenzie Akers is on the court.
The senior standout showed why as she led Princeton from a seven-point halftime deficit to a 68-54 victory over rival PikeView Tuesday night.
“It’s really sweet when you are behind at halftime and you comeback and end up winning,” Princeton head coach Debbie Ball said. “I think both team get up for this game so it kind of throws you out of your game plan. We’re happy with this win.”
Akers picked up two quick fouls and went to the bench with just under five minutes left in the first quarter. The Lady Panthers turned a 5-2 deficit into a 26-19 advantage going into the break. Akers returned to start the third quarter, never left and scored 31 points in the final 16 minutes.
“She’s an awesome player,” PikeView head coach Karen Miller said. “If you back off, she’s going to shoot. If you get on her, she’s going to drive. That’s a point guard.”
Both teams started out slow as neither could find a rhythm in the games opening minute. An Akers drive put Princeton on the board then Khadija Brown added a free throw. Following a Lyndsey Hatfield lay-up, Akers answered with another strong drive to the basket. Just a few second later, Akers was whistled for her second foul and went to the bench.
PikeView took advantage with a Laura Hill steal and score followed by a Lauryn Hatfield drive after a Tigerette turnover which tied the game at 7 after one.
The Lady Panthers took their first lead of the game in the second quarter on a Hope Nester drive to the basket.
The teams traded three’s until PikeView made four straight free throws. Freshman Madison May provided a spark off the bench for the Panthers with a big block on Marissa Mullins and a steal and score as PikeView closed the half on a 13-4 run.
At the start of the second half, Akers made her return to the court as Princeton slowly chopped away at the Panthers’ lead. It wasn’t until Nester sat down that the Tigerettes truly got going.
PikeView held a 39-35 lead when Nester went to the bench in the third, but their lead quickly vanished. Payne drove to the hoop then Mullins hit a three as Princeton regained the lead.
“We started playing and executing our game plan,” said Ball of what changed in the second half. “PikeView had a little bit of trouble covering us. We know that if we can execute our game plan and move our feet, we’re okay.”
Nester returned after just a quick breather and the Panthers offense responded. Courtney White hit a jumper from the top of the key before Nester drained two free throws. After Akers connected on a jumper, White nailed two free throws to give PikeView a 45-43 lead heading into the fourth.
“I thought we came out and played a lot better tonight,” Miller said. “We played three good quarters. Our shots were falling early. I thought our girls played tough.
“They didn’t quit. I’m proud of them.”
The Tigerettes came out on fire to start the final quarter. Akers hit two three pointers to go along with a put back and drive to the basket as Princeton opened up a 53-45 lead.
“I kept her out and as long as we could stay within 10 points, I knew that we’d be better off with her having only two fouls going into the second half,” Ball said of Akers. “She just brings leadership that we obviously need.”
Nester tried to keep the Panthers in the game with a drive of her own and a jumper, but it wouldn’t be enough. PikeView could only manage three free throws down the stretch.
Akers had a game-high 35 points. She hit three from behind the arc. Mullins added four three pointers as she finished with 19 points. Payne and Hannah Preservati each had five points.
“Every game we’ve played, somebody has stepped,” Ball said. “As long as we have that throughout the year, it’ll be a big plus.”
Nester was the lone Panther in double figures. She had 15 points before leaving the game late. White added nine points while Madison May and Alexis May both had seven.
“We don’t really know. We’ll find out,” Miller said of Nester’s injury. “When you don’t have your point guard out there, that hurts. They look for her.
“She’s limited with the injury right now. That’s what we’ve been trying to do [limit her minutes]. I don’t know the prognosis.”
PikeView is off until Dec. 28 when they visit Nicholas County. Princeton hosts Cabell Midland on Friday.
At Princeton Senior High School
Laura Hill 6, Hope Nester 15, Madison May 7, Lauryn Hatfield 4, Alexis May 7, Lyndsey Hatfield 6, Courtney White 9, Savannah Runion 0. Totals- 15 15-22 54.
Jessica Inman 0, McKenzie Akers 35, Marissa Mullins 19, Khadija Payne 5, Hannah Preservati 5, Stephanie Lambert 2, Rachel Surface 2. Totals- 15 14-24 68.
PikeView..............................7 19 19 9 — 54
Princeton..............................7 12 24 25 — 68
3 pt field goals: PV 3 (Nester, M. May, A. May), PRI 8 (Mullins 4, Akers 3, Preservati 1). Fouled out- none.