COVINGTON — The Miami East girls basketball team has a long memory.
Even though they lost to National Trail all the way back in the third game of the regular season, the Vikings remembered exactly why in their tournament rematch — and they did something about it.
Tenth-seeded Miami East held No. 11 National Trail’s Makena Laird and Skyler Ward to a combined 35 points less than they racked up in the first matchup, while the Vikings’ Paxton Hunley poured in a game-high 14 points on the other end to lead Miami East to a 41-25 victory in the second round of the Division III sectional tournament Thursday at Covington High School.
“When we played them the first time, Makena Laird and Skyler Ward had 38 of their 54 points,” Miami East coach Bruce Vanover said. “We held the two of them combined to three points tonight.”
National Trail (12-11) defeated the Vikings 54-45 in the first meeting back on November 26, 2019 thanks in large part to the production of Laird and Ward. But Thursday (Feb. 20), they were held scoreless in the first half as East built a 20-9 lead, and the duo only managed one 3-pointer by Laird in the second half on the entire night.
“That was our focus at practice this week,” Vanover said. “We had someone in a red jersey being one person and a yellow jersey being the other, and we had people pointing and talking to make sure we knew where they were. National Trail is well coached, he has them playing hard, and we knew they’d be solid. We just knew if we could keep those two down, we had a chance to win the game.”
In fact, after the Blazers tied the game at 4-4 early, the Vikings went on a 12-0 run and only allowed a total of three field goals by Trail in the first half to pull ahead for the 11-point halftime lead, controlling the game defensively and remaining efficient on offense to take control for good.
“We’ve been starting that way, probably, the last four or five games,” National Trail coach James Byrd said of the slow start for his team. “It was a rough one. You would have thought we would have been able to compete a little bit better. I don’t know we competed the way we needed too to win a tournament game. They (East) played harder. They played a lot better defense and just competed just a little bit harder than we did.”
“I can’t say enough about the girls defensively,” Vanover said. “It’s kind of been the one thing we’ve been consistent at all year. And offensively, I thought the girls did a good of being patient. We took 16 shots in the first half and had 20 points, so we did a nice job there. I’m really happy to see our shooting percentage up there — 44 percent overall and 63 percent on 2-pointers. That’s going to be a high for us this year. I can’t say enough about the way they prepped the last three or four days.”
The Vikings strung together another 10-0 run in the third quarter to lead 28-9, but the Blazers later answered with a 10-0 run of their own to cut the lead to as little as seven at 30-23. But after Trail cut the lead to 32-25, East closed out the game with nine unanswered points to put it away.
“I think that the girls we put in came in a played hard and competed,” Byrd said of cutting the lead to seven. “We just couldn’t make enough plays after that.”
“The person that got me into coaching told me that basketball is a game of runs, and you’ve just got to have more runs than they do,” Vanover said with a laugh.”
Paxton Hunley scored nine of her game-high 14 points in the second half and added two assists, while sister Rori Hunley added eight points to lead the Vikings.
“Paxton had 14 tonight, which was great. We’re just waiting for them all to score 14 on the same night,” Vanover said with a laugh. “We know they’re all capable of it. That’s special that Paxton can do that tonight, though. She’s going to be a nice player, she’s just a sophomore and a great point guard. Her sister (Rori) is a good shooter that’s had some struggles at times this year, but then there’s times she lights it up. Rori hit her first couple shots tonight and stayed steady.
“I can’t say enough about how the girls played and prepared. It’s just been a great week.”
Camryn Miller did a bit of everything for East with seven points, six rebounds and two assists, Megan McDowell had six points and seven rebounds, Kayly Fetters scored four points and Cadence Gross added two.
J’da Jackson led the Blazers with six points, Micaiah Byrd had five points and five rebounds, Molly Skinner had five points, Kelsey Patrum added four, Laird had three and Angel Bowers chipped in two.
“I thought we had a good year. We wish we could have finished better,” Byrd said. “There’s only one team that’s going to win it all.”
Trail finished the season 12-10 overall and 7-5 in the CCC.
The loss ends the high school career’s of Laird, Kelsey Patrum and Davlyn Werner.
“It’s been a good group. They’ve been together for a while and I’ve been around them for a longtime,” Byrd said. “I’ve really enjoyued coaching the three of them.”
(Editor’s note: R-H editor Eddie Mowen Jr. contributed to this story)
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