WEST UNION – A much-improved squad of West Union Lady Dragons, fresh off a season-opening win at Paint Valley, returned to their home court on Tuesday night, Nov. 24, for their Southern Hills Athletic Conference opener, hosting the Fayetteville Lady Rockets.
The Lady Dragons have not had much luck with the Lady Rockets in recent years, but it was a different story last Tuesday as the West Union squad played their guests tough from start to finish before the Lady Rockets, with some outstanding free throw shooting, pulled away late for a 55-46 victory.
“On the positive side, when we did what we were supposed to do we looked good,” West Union head coach Jason Claytor said after the loss. “Overall, we just made too many execution errors. We just sometimes forget what we are doing or don’t seem to know what we are doing.
“I think we lost a game tonight that we really should have won. Fayetteville just shot the lights out from the free throw line and they did a nice job of clamping us up on the inside. I thought we missed some open looks to the inside, costing us some inside-out opportunities.”
Samantha Murphy led the Lady Rockets with 21 points and was joined in double figures by teammate Taylor Cornett with 11. Murphy’s younger sister Cecilia added 9 points, with Hannah Wiederhold scoring 6. The Lady Rockets were a very impressive 18 of 19 from the foul line in the victory.
“I think everybody knew that West Union was going to be a very improved ball club,” Fayetteville head coach Toby Sheets, in his 28th season, told C103 radio after the game. “They brought in that freshman group and they are going to win some ball games. I like what Mikayla Akers did tonight for them.”
“I was expecting them to play a little more man defense tonight, but we are playing with a freshman point guard and she is learning,” added Sheets. “We also got some great minutes off the bench from another freshman Hannah Wiederhold.”
After Fayetteville eked out a 31-28 win in the JV contest, the two varsity squads took the court and after the Lady Rockets grabbed an early 4-0 lead, West Union answered with five quick points from freshman Alexa Pennington to move in front for the first time. That five-point spurt was answered by the lady Rockets in rapid fashion as they reeled off the game’s next 10 points, getting two baskets each from Samantha Murphy and Hannah Wiederhold to go up 14-5.
Pennington banked in a three from the top of the key to slice into the deficit but the first period ended with the Rockets’ freshman Cecilia Murphy firing in a trey off the left wing to give Fayetteville a 17-8 advantage.
The second quarter began with West Union getting a basket from Kristen Grooms on their first possession but it would be nearly four minutes before they scored again. In the meantime, the Rockets ran off six straight to take a double digit lead at 23-10. Pennington broke the Dragon dry spell with a bucket in the paint at the 4:27 mark but seconds late went down hard on a play under her own basket, injuring her elbow and leaving the game. The West Union freshman returned in the second half, but was not as effective as she was toughing it out in obvious pain.
The Pennington basket and injury seemed to light a fire under the Lady Dragons as they went on a 12-2 run, getting three pointers from Shannon Runyan and Jaycee Baldwin and four free throws from Mikayla Akers to draw back to within 25-22 with under a minute left in the first half. After the Lady Rockets got a bucket from Taylor Cornett, the first half ended on a high note for the home team as Akers converted the old-fashioned three-point play and at the intermission, Fayetteville clung to a slim 27-25 lead.
It took a couple of minutes into the third quarter to get both offenses in gear, but then the scoring came in a bunch. A pair of Cecilia Murphy free throws put Fayetteville up 33-27, but the Lady Dragons bounced back to cut that gap in half after a bucket by Akers. Momentum then went back to the visitors and a three-point play by Cornett gave them a 38-30 lead.
Leading later 38-32, the Rockets got yet another old-fashioned three-point play, this one from Samantha Murphy, to take a nine-point lead but West Union answered with the basket, foul, and free throw of their own, with Akers doing the trick and the third quarter closed with Fayetteville in front 41-35.
After a put back basket by Meghan Koch to open the final stanza for the Lady Rockets, the Lady Dragons scored five straight as a three by Runyan cut the deficit to 43-40 and shifted momentum back to the home team, but only temporarily. From that point on, West Union went cold from the field and made the mistake of sending the Lady Rockets to the free throw line. The Lady Dragons got a three-pointer from Akers with 2:50 to play to stay within three, but down the stretch, Fayetteville was a perfect 10 for 10 from the charity stripe, pulling away to claim the 55-46 conference win.
“Taylor had a nice game for us tonight,” said Coach Sheets said of Cornett. “Our hope is to get six points a night from everyone but Taylor stepped up tonight and got us 11. I thought Meghan Koch held her own tonight too, she has to be our most-improved player.”
West Union was topped by 18 points from Mikayla Akers, joined in double figures by Alex Pennington with 11. Shannon Runyan added 8, with Jaycee Baldwin chipping in 5 off the bench.
“I thought Mikayla played a whale of a game,” said Coach Claytor. “Besides her points, I know she had numerous steals and rebounds.”
The Lady Rockets will be back in action on Dec. 1 with a non-conference game at Blanchester, while West Union also has a non-conference foe in their next outing, traveling to Western Latham to battle the Lady Indians on Wednesday, Dec. 2.