After losing to the Hickory Red Tornadoes by 12 earlier in the season, the McDowell Lady Titans approached the rematch with a bit of a chip on their shoulder.
The result was one of McDowell’s grittiest – and most impressive – wins of the season Friday night at Titan Gym.
McDowell (6-2 Northwestern 3A/4A, 12-6 overall) overcame foul trouble, a determined Hickory comeback attempt and a Red Tornadoes front line that includes 6-foot-4 Shelby Darden en route to a 58-56 win Friday.
The victory comes on the heels of a disappointing loss at Freedom Tuesday that would have given the Lady Titans a share of the lead in the league standings. As it is, McDowell is tied for second place with Watauga with a bit less than half the NWC season remaining. Hickory (5-3, 10-5) is alone in fourth place.
Friday, McDowell shoved aside any lingering effects of Tuesday’s loss and took care of business against the much taller Tornadoes.
“I’m so proud of our girls I can’t even put it into words,” said Lady Titans head coach Jennifer Kinninger. “They fought so hard. They had to play a defense we’ve not run all year and go against a 6-4 girl inside and a very athletic team, and you’ve got to give it to them, they’re very good.
“But our girls played and battled and fought for every single thing. We were getting hammered and pushed around and they still fought.”
McDowell never trailed after opening the second half with a 13-0 run, but things got tight down the stretch, with Hickory trimming an eight-point, fourth-quarter deficit to just one in the final 19 seconds.
The Lady Titans lead was 55-54 when Hickory’s Kayla Soublet scored on a follow shot with 19 seconds to go. Silese Carson made one of two free throws six seconds later to push the lead to 56-54.
After a McDowell timeout, Hickory brought the ball quickly upcourt, but Soublet lost control of it as she entered the frontcourt. McDowell’s Zoe Miller recovered it and was fouled with 8 seconds to go.
The veteran guard swished both clutch free throws to make it a two-possession game at 58-54 and effectively seal the outcome.
Darden’s inconsequential put-back as the clock expired accounted for the final.
“Silese and Zoe stepped up and made some big free throws down the stretch,” said Kinninger. “The one person I really want to brag on is Naliyah (Boyce). She battled so hard in there. She’s a sophomore, but she played like a senior tonight. I’m so proud of her.”
Boyce, a 5-foot-11 post, went toe-to-toe with Darden and more than held her own, finishing with nine points and game-highs of 13 rebounds and three blocked shots – one of them a rejection of Darden.
Makenna Parkins was the only Lady Titan in double figures, going for 14 points and 10 boards.
But McDowell had a total of six players with at least six apiece in the balanced effort.
Miller joined Boyce with nine; Dezi Williams (8 rebounds, 3 steals, 2 assists) added seven before fouling out with 48 seconds to play; Makaylah Chandler (team-high 6 assists, 4 rebounds) tossed in six and played a huge role as a primary ballhandler against Hickory’s pressure when Williams was forced to sit with foul trouble; Alana Stephenson added six points as well.
“It was a complete team effort,” said Kinninger. “It took every single person to be able to do that. That was just huge win for us, to come back after playing down there. The third quarter was really a big change for us. Down there, we gave up five turnovers through the third quarter that they were able to use and transition off of, and that changed the game. We came out tonight and in the third quarter we really got the job done. I thought the third quarter was the big difference.”
McDowell led throughout most of the first half, but Shania Johnson banked in a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give Hickory a 23-21 lead at the break.
But the Lady Titans came out with laser focus in the third. McDowell ran its offense patiently on the first possession of the quarter and tied the game 32 seconds in on a Boyce bucket off a Parkins assist.
Williams then grabbed a rebound and went coast-to-coast for a basket to give the Lady Titans a 25-23 lead, and they never trailed again. Hickory missed its first five shots of the second half.
Boyce scored five points and Williams and Parkins four each during the 13-0 rally, that ended when Boyce’s free throw made it 34-23 and forced a Tornadoes timeout with 4:13 remaining in the period.
McDowell led 40-35 after three and stretched the advantage to 48-40 on Parkins’ stick-back with 5:14 to play.
A 3-pointer by Johnson and basket in the paint from Darden quickly got Hickory back in the game, but the Lady Titans held the Red Tornadoes off down the stretch. McDowell took 18 of its 30 free throws in the final period, making 12 of them.
Soublet (10 points) and Mikayla Hill (13 points, 11 rebounds) joined Darden in double figures for Hickory. Johnson added nine.
McDowell is on the road at St. Stephens next Tuesday.
Hickory (56) Kayla Soublet 4-5 2-4 10, Mason Paradine 2-6 0-0 5, Iness Knox 2-9 0-1 4, Mikayla Hill 2-14 9-14 13, Shelby Darden 5-17 5-6 15, Shania Johnson 3-5 0-0 9, Kara Byrd 0-1 0-0 0, Finley Lefevers 0-3 0-0 0. Totals: 18-60 16-25 56.
McDowell (58) Makaylah Chandler 1-6 4-7 6, Makenna Parkins 7-14 0-0 14, Naliyah Boyce 4-7 1-8 9, Zoe Miller 2-6 3-4 9, Dezi Williams 3-6 1-2 7, Candace Cooper 0-2 0-0 0, Alana Stephenson 2-2 0-1 6, Silese Carson 1-6 2-4 4, Daisy Rice 0-0 3-4 3. Totals: 20-49 14-30 58.
Hickory 10 13 12 21 – 56
McDowell 11 10 19 18 – 58
Rebounds: HHS (38) MHS (42) Rebound leaders: HHS (Darden 12, Hill 11) McDowell (Boyce 13, Parkins 10) 3-point goals: HHS (4-10) MHS (4-12) HHS (Paradine 1-4, Johnson 3-5, Lefevers 0-1) MHS (Williams, Chandler 0-1, Miller 2-3, Cooper 0-2, Stephenson 2-2, Carson 0-3) MHS assist leaders: (Chandler 6) MHS steals leaders: (Williams 3) MHS blocked shot leaders: (Boyce 3) Turnovers: HHS (14) MHS (19) Fouled out: MHS (Williams :48—fourth)