Despite losing two starters off last year’s Seventh Region champions, the Manual High School girls basketball team looks ready to defend its title.
Tuesday night the Crimsons continued to show their mettle, pulling out a 52-47 win at Eastern. Manual (11-2) trailed most of the game, but outscored the Eagles 6-0 in the final 57 seconds for its seventh win in seven games against Seventh Region foes so far this season.
“We’re showing toughness and I think really that’s been the big thing for us this early,” Crimsons coach Jeff Sparks said. “We’ve had some close games here recently, even in the tournament in Lexington before Christmas. We’ve had to just find some ways to win, even when it’s not pretty, even when it’s not going our way all the time.”
It wasn’t pretty, especially from the free-throw line, for Manual, which was ranked No. 11 in The Courier-Journal’s preseason coaches poll, against Eastern. The Crimsons were only 16 for 34 (47.1 percent) from the foul line. However, they hit 4 of 6 in the final 32 seconds after Tonysha Curry’s put-back with 57 seconds left gave them a one-point lead.
Curry exemplified Manual’s struggles from the not-so-charitable stripe. The 5-foot-10 senior guard was only 2-for-12 from free-throw line. However, she made up for that in her all-around play, totaling 11 points, 14 rebounds, four blocked shots and three assists.
“We weren’t making a lot of shots. I know me personally, I missed a lot of free throws, but we had to keep our heads and remember to stay aggressive,” Curry said. “We can’t control if the ball goes in or out, but we can control energy and we can control effort, so that’s what we had to focus on.”
In their first game since a 63-62 loss to St. Joseph Central Catholic (Ohio) on Dec. 29 (six days after they lost to No. 1 Butler, 62-50 in the final of the Traditional Bank Holiday Classic in Lexington), the Crimsons looked a little lethargic early. They trailed No. 17 Eastern 18-10 in the second quarter before Jaela Johnson single-handedly got Manual back in the game. The 5-5 junior guard accounted for 10 straight points – with a 3-pointer, a free throw, two coast-to-coast layups and an assist – to give the Crimsons a 20-18 lead.
It didn’t last long, though. The Eagles tied the game at halftime, then scored the first seven points of the second half to open up a lead they wouldn’t relinquish until late.
Nila Blackford hit 1 of 2 free throws with 2:13 left to give the Crimsons a 46-45 lead – its first since late in the second quarter. Eastern, though, answered on its ensuing possession thanks to a step-back jumper by Bri Mishler, who tallied a team-high 14 points.
However Curry’s put-back on Manual’s next possession gave the visitors the lead for good. After an Eagles’ turnover, Johnson hit 2 of 4 free throws following a personal foul and a technical foul on Eastern’s Breanna Anthony. Then, following an Eagles’ miss, Tyonne Howard hit a pair of free throws to ice it for the Crimsons.
“Down the stretch we were able to get a couple of stops and we weren’t great from the free-throw line, but we were hitting enough at the end,” Sparks said.
Johnson finished with a game-high 19 points while Blackford added 12 points and nine rebounds for Manual, which shot 47.2 percent (17 for 36) from the field and out-rebounded the Eagles 39-28.
Sophomore Mikayla Kinnard added 10 points and six rebounds for Eastern (9-4), which shot 32.7 percent (18 of 55) from the field, including only 28.6 percent (8 for 28) in the second half. Despite that the Eagles had the lead most of the game, but could never pull away from the Crimsons.
“We just could never get a bucket, a stop and a bucket,” Eastern coach Josh Leslie said. “We had a lead, but we couldn’t get it to where it was two possessions. It was one possession and they’d keep battling and then we don’t do a very good job of rebounding and we just foul them. We’re lucky they missed free throws…We gift-wrapped that one. I feel like Santa Claus.”
MANUAL 52, EASTERN 47
Jaela Johnson 19p,4stl; Marlena Groves 4p; Aniah Griffin 4p,6r,3a; Tonysha Curry 11p,14r,4bs,3a; Nila Blackford 12p,9r; Tyonne Howard 2p.
Bri Mishler 14p,7r; Mikayla Kinnard 10p,6r; Natalie Collins 8p,4stl,3a; Kiara Pearl 7p; Devin Beach 6p; Destiny Houseal 2p.