Searching for toughness from his team after a tough stretch during the Christmas tournament season, Manual High School girls basketball coach Jeff Sparks said he saw signs of some Tuesday night.
After letting an early 12-point lead slip away and falling behind by five points early in the fourth quarter, the Crimsons got solid play from sophomore Jaela Johnson and a huge 3-pointer from sophomore Tyonne Howard to rally past visiting Eastern 65-61 in a matchup of Seventh Region powers.
“We had some ups and downs and hadn’t really put together a full game yet,” said Sparks, whose team went 2-3 against out-of-state competition during the Christmas break. “We spent some time before this game talking about the need to do that.
PHOTO GALLERY | Eastern at Manual girls
“This was a big chance for us to step up and prove we belong on this stage and belong in the conversation. I think our kids needed that confidence, and for us at this point it’s a big win for that reason.”
Johnson scored a game-high 18 points, including nine in the fourth quarter, as Manual improved to 7-4. West Virginia signee Kyrs McCune and Tonysha Curry both added 11 points for Manual, which was ranked No. 7 in the state in The Courier-Journal’s preseason poll of coaches.
Bri Mishler hit five 3-pointers and scored 15 points to lead No. 13 Eastern (10-4).
While his team rallied for a fourth-quarter lead, Eastern coach Josh Leslie said the difference was a first quarter in which his team fell behind 15-4.
“That’s where you’re constantly, constantly digging from behind,” Leslie said. “(Manual) is good, and you can’t spot them a lead like that.”
Eastern pulled within 29-24 by halftime and took its first lead, 41-38, on Mikayla Kinnard’s 3-point play with 23.6 seconds left in the third quarter.
Markeia Porter’s basket gave the Eagles their biggest lead, 48-43, with 6:43 remaining before Manual rallied. Aniah Griffin’s basket after an assist from Curry gave Manual a 51-50 lead with 4:30 remaining. Howard’s 3-pointer pushed the lead to 58-54 with 2:22 left.
“That was huge and really gave us a lift,” Sparks said. “I don’t know if it’s the one I would have drawn up necessarily in that situation, but it was a big shot.”
Manual struggled at the free-throw line (20 of 36) all night but hit enough down the stretch to keep Eastern at bay.
“We’ve been working on toughness, and that really showed tonight,” Curry said. “We’ve been getting at it more in practice, and we dug deep and said we were not going to lose this game.”
Jason Frakes can be reached at (502) 582-4046 and firstname.lastname@example.org.
EASTERN 4 20 20 17 – 61
MANUAL 15 14 11 25 – 65
Eastern (10-4) – Porter 4, Mishler 15, Stafford 2, Thompson 12, Kinnard 12, Smith 6, Collins 10.
Manual (7-4) – J. Ballard 4, A. Ballard 2, Howard 7, Griffin 4, Curry 11, Johnson 18, Brown 8, McCune 11.
3-point goals – Mishler 5, Thompson; Howard, Johnson 2.