For about an eight-minute span of Tuesday night’s game, Eastern High School freshman Mikayla Kinnard was in such a zone that even her ugliest of shots ended up going in the basket.
Kinnard scored 15 of her 17 points in the second half – including a banked-in 3-pointer at the end of the third quarter – to propel the host Eagles to a 68-58 victory over Sacred Heart in a matchup of previously undefeated Seventh Region rivals.
Kinnard’s 3-pointer, her first of the season, gave Eastern its first lead, 46-43, since midway through the first quarter.
“I’m not much of a shooter; it’s not really my thing,” said Kinnard, a 5-foot-11 guard. “I didn’t call ‘bank.’ I actually called ‘air ball.’”
PHOTO GALLERY | Sacred Heart at Eastern
Kinnard, who also pulled down a game-high nine rebounds, was the underclassman star of the night for an Eastern squad that also got solid performances from seniors Shavia Thompson (18 points, three steals) and Markeia Porter (15 points, seven rebounds).
The Eagles – No. 14 in the state in The Courier-Journal’s preseason poll of coaches – improved to 7-0 entering play in the Traditional Bank Holiday Classic starting Saturday at Lexington Catholic.
“If we get pace and our bench comes along where we can trust 10 or 11 people, then we’re going to be tough to beat,” Eastern coach Josh Leslie said.
Natalie Fichter scored 14 points to lead four Sacred Heart players in double-figures, joining Grace Berger (12 points, eight rebounds, three assists), Kiki Samsel (11 points, six rebounds) and Ashlee Harris (10 points).
No. 14 Sacred Heart (5-1) put together a 14-2 run to take a 23-12 lead early in the second quarter before Eastern fought back.
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“We were doing a good job of distributing the ball and staying within ourselves,” said Valkyries coach Donna Moir, whose team will leave Thursday for the Nike Tournament of Champions in Phoenix. “In the second half we took some bad shots and missed a lot of free throws (made 11 of 18). We’d get a couple of rebounds, and then they’d come dig at it and take it away and go score. I think that’s just some immaturity we have.”
Sacred Heart still led 42-35 after a Samsel basket with 3:37 left in the third quarter before the Eagles made their run.
Kinnard scored 11 straight points for Eastern during a 15-3 run that gave the Eagles a 50-45 lead with 6:57 remaining.
“The team has faith in me,” she said. “I just kept attacking.”
Added Leslie: “She’s a matchup nightmare. The sky’s the limit for her. She can be as good as she wants to be. Yeah, she banked in a 3. But she was getting wherever she wanted. She’s, honestly, a facilitator first. But if you put a big person on her, then go.”
Samsel’s free throw pulled Sacred Heart within 53-52 with 5:10 left, but Eastern responded with an 11-1 run to put the game away. Thompson capped the surge with a layup that made it 64-53 with 3:40 remaining.
Leslie said pushing the pace was the key to his team’s second-half comeback. The Eagles shot 54.5 percent (18 of 33) in the second half after hitting just 30 percent (9 of 30) in the first.
“It was two totally different games,” he said. “The first half was more their style. They got whatever they wanted, and we didn’t get any pressure on them. My head was about to pop off my dang-gum shoulders because it wasn’t the same team I’ve seen the first six games of the year.”
Jason Frakes can be reached at (502) 582-4046 and firstname.lastname@example.org.
SACRED HEART 19 11 13 15 – 58
EASTERN 12 11 23 22 – 68
Sacred Heart (5-1) – Scott 2, Harris 10, Samsel 11, Sivils 9, Berger 12, Fichter 14.
Eastern (7-0) – Porter 15, Mishler 2, Thompson 18, Kinnard 17, Smith 5, Collins 5, Pearl 6.
3-point goals – Harris, Samsel, Berger, Fichter; Thompson, Kinnard, Collins.