Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
CIRCLEVILLE — Kenzie McCconnell lives up to the hype.
Every. Single. Night.
Circleville’s star senior was once again in rare form on Saturday, leading her Tigers (13-2, 9-0 MSL) to a comeback win over Fairfield Union by a 50-45 final.
It was a victory where McConnell posted 26 points, 14 rebounds and four assists — also called a regular night.
But what really stood out was McConnell’s ability to dig her team out of a nine-point hole late in the second half against a talented opponent.
You can’t teach that.
“We knew it was a really decisive game in the league,” McConnell said. “We knew we had to get this win. We didn’t come out as strong as we wanted to. They were hitting shots and we weren’t. But in the fourth quarter and in the second half in general, we really amped up our defensive pressure and focused on limiting their second chance opportunities. We did a really nice job.”
The victory extended Circleville’s MSL-Buckeye winning streak to 28 games. It also creates separation from Fairfield Union in the standings.
McConnell knew what was one the line all too well. When she kicked into a second gear, the Falcons had no answer.
“My other senior, Jaylah [Captain], can’t be out there with me,” McConnell said. “But we have this thing …. she hasn’t lost an MSL title in her four years. So when we get behind, that’s what I think about. I think about doing it for her. And for the rest of the team because I know they’re all counting on me. I just want to be able to step up and play well for my team.”
For the first three quarters, Fairfield Union (8-5, 7-4 MSL) was in control and that had a lot to do with the play of Marisa Malone.
Malone gave the Falcons a 3-0 lead early before making it a 7-5 edge with 3:49 left in the first quarter. Claire Cooperider, Annaliese Hartman and Hannah Rauch then teamed up to push the advantage to 15-9 before the Tigers could blink.
Elly Lewis and Brooke Holt began the second with baskets, making it a 20-9 score, before Circleville begane to look like itself. Faith Yancey scored two buckets, cutting the deficit to 20-13, before Alicia Francis and McConnell capped an 8-0 run, making it a 20-17 ballgame.
But not to be outdone, Cooperider hit a 3 and sank a jumper before Isabella Neal hit the first of two free throws to put Fairfield Union ahead 26-19 at halftime.
“[Circleville coach Steve Kalinoski] wanted us to have more intensity. We weren’t giving as much effort as he wanted and he just wanted us to break down our defense, slow down our offense and start playing good basketball,” Yancey said.
After the Tigers cut the lead to 28-24 to begin the third, Olivia Spillers dialed long distance to push Fairfield Union’s lead back to seven at 31-24. Throughout the rest of the quarter, the Falcons continued to keep their distance, taking a 42-35 lead into the final eight minutes.
And that’s when McConnell took over.
The senior scored with 7:28 remaining, making it a 42-37 score, before cutting the lead to a single point at 42-41 with 6:10 left. Gabby McConnell then drilled a triple to give Circleville its first lead of the ballgame, 44-42, at the 4:16 mark.
Trailing 46-42 with 51.7 seconds left, Rauch sank a trey to cut the Tigers’ lead to one. But McConnell scored with 1:06 left and Morgan Blakeman hit a pair of free throws to put a comeback win on ice.
Following McConnell’s final stat line was Yancey with eight points while Gabby McConnell added seven points and three rebounds. Logan Jones also chipped in with five points.
Malone led the Falcons with 11 points, eight rebounds and three assists while Rauch totaled 10 points. Cooperider ended the night with nine points and four boards.
Both teams are back in action on Saturday. The Falcons travel to Hamilton Township while the Tigers host Logan Elm before a pivotal conference title on Monday against Liberty Union.
“We just have to play our game and not let whatever the other team’s doing affect us,” McConnell said. “We have to stay true to who we are in our half-court sets and just play good defense. If we do those things, I think we can [win].”
Fairfield Union: 15-11-16-3 — 45
Circleville: 9-10-16-15 — 50
Fairfield Union: 18-51 FG, 4-9 FT, 5-20 3pt., 18 rebounds (Malone 8), 13 turnovers, 9 assists (Malone 3, Hartman 3). Scoring: Malone 11, Rauch 10, Cooperider 9, Hartman 4, Neal 3, Spillers 3, Lewis 3, Holt 2.
Circleville: 17-43 FG, 14-17 FT, 2-6 3pt., 31 rebounds (K. McConnell 14), 16 turnovers, 7 assists (K. McConnell 4). Scoring: K. McConnell 26, Yancey 8, G. McConnell 7, Jones 5, Francis 2, Blakeman 2.