Plagued by injuries during the final month of the regular season – including one that will keep a top scorer out for the rest of the season – the Male High School girls basketball team showed Friday it might be deep enough to overcome them and still make a run at the state title.
Ciaja Harbison and Cameron Browning both scored 15 points as the host Bulldogs beat rival Manual 66-57 at a packed Glenn Gym.
Male (26-2) – No. 4 in the state in The Courier-Journal’s Litkenhous Ratings – suffered a major blow Feb. 7 against Eastern when junior guard and Butler University commit Emilia Sexton tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee. Sexton, the team’s No. 3 scorer (12.2 ppg) and top 3-point shooter (41 of 128), will miss the rest of the season and plans to have surgery March 8.
Senior starter Kyra Hogan (6.4 ppg, 5.9 rpg) and senior reserve Derise Cox (1.9 ppg) both missed Friday’s game with concussions, and coach Champ Ligon Jr. isn’t sure when they will return. Ligon said Hogan is scheduled to visit a doctor for an evaluation Wednesday.
“For a lot of teams, you go down two starters like that it’s hard to overcome,” Ligon said. “It’s a credit to some of our other girls who have been waiting in the wings. We’re the one team maybe in the state that could absorb those losses and still be able to compete at a high level. The girls have really made me proud.”
Eighth-grader Alana Striverson is one of the Male players who has received increased playing time and scored 10 points, hitting a pair of 3-pointers.
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“Her playing time went way up with these injuries,” Ligon said. “My expectations for her is to be a Miss Basketball candidate by her senior year. The sky is the limit for her.”
Jaela Johnson scored 19 points to lead No. 7 Manual (19-7), which trailed 20-5 late in the first quarter and 36-19 at halftime before making a second-half run.
“We couldn’t put the ball in the hole,” Crimsons coach Jeff Sparks said of his team’s rough first half. “We had chances around the rim, and we couldn’t convert for whatever reason. (Male) did a good job rebounding … and their fast-break points really killed us.”
Harbison scored six of her points during the opening 20-5 run. Browning did most of her damage from the free-throw line, hitting 9 of 10.
Manual’s Tyonne Howard scored all 10 of her points in the second half, including a 3-pointer that pulled the Crimsons within 60-51 with 3:33 remaining.
Johnson hit two free throws to make it 63-57 with 56.6 seconds left, but that’s as close as it would get.
Harbison said Male was motivated by the sting of last year’s 64-47 loss to Manual in the Seventh Region final.
“It’s a big win, a big rivalry,” she said. “We’re really pumped.”
Now it’s on to the postseason for both squads. Manual will host either Shawnee or St. Francis at 6 p.m. Tuesday in a 25th District semifinal. Male will host Collegiate at 6 p.m. Monday in a 26th District semifinal.
Harbison said the injuries haven’t changed Male’s goal of winning the Seventh Region title and competing for the state championship.
“We were a little down because those are two of the best players on the team, but at the same time we were like, ‘We’ve got this,’” she said. “We have players who can step up and do their jobs, and they did pretty well today. We’re very confident in them.”
Jason Frakes can be reached at (502) 582-4046 and email@example.com.
MALE 66, MANUAL 57
Manual (19-7) – Jeanay Riley 1p; Tonysha Curry 12p; Nila Blackford 8p; Jaela Johnson 19p; Tyonne Howard 10p; Aniah Griffin 7p.
Male (26-2) – India Green 5p; Joelle Johnson 2p; Logan Calvert 6p; Ciaja Harbison 15p; Destiny Combs 6p; Cameron Browning 15p; Jada Owens 7p; Alana Striverson 10p.