By JONATHAN GREENE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
A night earlier, McKenzie Akers broke Princeton’s scoring record at Oak Hill. The Hurricane Redskins, however, came into Princeton Wednesday night looking to spoil her celebration and upset the one-loss Tigerettes.
After 16 minutes, it looked as if the Redskins (4-5) were going to pull a shocker. Akers and Princeton weren’t going down without a fight though. The Tigerettes (8-1) rallied for a 58-42 victory at Princeton Senior High School.
“I don’t think we had one of our better performances,” Princeton head coach Debbie Ball said. “When we have McKenzie go to the bench with foul trouble, that doesn’t help us either. With all that going against us, a win is a good thing.”
Akers picked up two quick fouls and went to the bench with 3:49 left in the first quarter. Princeton led 9-5, but Hurricane took advantage of her absence. The Redskins took a 15-14 lead after the first before clinging to a 21-19 halftime lead.
“We did well the first half,” Hurricane coach Austin Lowe said. “We’ve been struggling shooting the ball the last few games, but we did better tonight. We did what we wanted in the first half by getting Akers off the floor.
“I told them halftime that she wasn’t going to foul out. We got away from attacking and they changed their defense on us. They knocked down shots and we didn’t. They’re a great basketball team.”
Akers returned to start the second half and reignited the Tigerettes. The senior scored 15 points in the third quarter to help turn the two-point deficit into a 16-point lead.
“It was frustrating to sit on the bench and watch my team,” Akers said. “I wanted to be out there helping. I was a little nervous, because they were up at halftime. I got mad on the bench and I just wanted to get out there and make a difference.”
The Marshall signee made her mark on the game less than 15 seconds in. Princeton won the tip and Akers raced to the basket for a lay-in. Khadija Payne added a baseline jumper following a five-second violation on the Redskins. After a Hurricane turnover, Akers nailed a jumper to make it 6-0.
Brooke Crompton’s jumper got the Redskins on the board, but Hannah Preservati drained a three as the Tigerettes were starting to build a lead. The lead would slowly start to vanish as Akers picked up her second foul a minute later.
With Akers on the bench, Abby Watson went to work for Hurricane. She connected on four free throws before a nice drive to the basket cut the lead to 12-11. After a Marissa Mullins fastbreak lay-up, Taneisha Sturdavent hit two free throws then Audrey Barber scored on a fastbreak to give the Redskins the lead.
Neither team could get much going in the second quarter. Hurricane and Princeton combined for just 11 points. Despite the offensive woes, the Redskins built their lead to 21-14 following a jumper by Callie McClanahan. They took a 21-19 lead into the locker room.
“We weren’t penetrating and making the offense happen,” Ball said of their first half offensive woes. “We were just passing the ball around and their defense didn’t have to move. A lot of our game is ‘get it and go’ and we weren’t even doing that very well tonight.”
The start of the second half saw the return of Akers and the Tigerettes’ offense got into gear. Princeton opened the quarter on an 18-3 run capped off by back-to-back threes from Preservati and Akers.
A jumper by Crompton only stopped Princeton momentarily. Preservati hit another three then Stephanie Lambert added a putback as the Tigerettes built a 44-28 lead after three quarters.
“I think we started looking to run our offense more,” Ball said. “I changed up our offense to execute a few picks to open up our players.”
Princeton’s lead grew to 19 points in the fourth quarter following two scores by Akers. Hurricane kept battling, but could get no closer than 13 points down the stretch. The Redskins’ run of six straight points turned into a Tigerettes run.
Mullins drove to the hoop for a bucket, Rachel Surface connected on an attempt and Ashley Culicerto finished it off with a three to put the game away for good.
“The defense didn’t throw us off as much as McKenzie Akers did,” Lowe said. “When she steps on the floor, she makes everyone else better. It’s not just here we have to worry about scoring. We pay so much attention to her and that creates shots for other players. They knocked them down.”
Akers had a game-high 24 points. Preservati added 14 points and Mullins finished with nine points.
Akers passed Tina Six’s mark of 1,367 points to establish a new school record in Princeton’s 101-17 victory over Oak Hill Tuesday.
“It’s such a blessing,” she said. “Without my teammates and coaches, it wouldn’t be possible. I’m so very thankful.”
While the scoring record is nice, Akers has a bigger goal in mind for her and her teammates.
“The team is first,” she added. “I want to go upstate before I graduate. It’s my senior year and there are seven other seniors on this team. I want to go upstate and make a bang before I leave.”
Watson led Hurricane with 21 points.
Hurricane visits Riverside on Friday while Princeton hosts Spring Valley.
At Princeton Senior High School
Audrey Barber 4, Abby Watson 21, Brooke Crompton 7, Callie McClanahan 6, Taneisha Sturdavent 4, Courtney Rogers 0. Totals- 13 15-19 42.
Jessica Inman 0, McKenzie Akers 24, Ashley Culicerto 3, Marissa Mullins 9, Khadija Payne 4, Hannah Preservati 14, Stephanie Lambert 2, Rachel Surface 2. Totals- 22 8-14 58.
Hurricane.................................15 6 7 14 – 42
Princeton.................................14 5 25 14 – 58
3 pt field goals: H 1 (Watson), PRI 6 (Preservati 4, Akers 2). Fouled out- none.