Phil Garner led Whitewater to victory with 22 points. (Staff Photo by Christopher Dunn)
In another big battle of Fayette foes, Whitewater surged late to beat McIntosh 66-56 on Tuesday night. The Wildcats played their best ball down the stretch as they turned halftime deficit into a victory with a great fourth quarter.
"It was just a good, good effort. You know we were down at the half by six, but we just rallied around. We stayed with the play and we played hard," said Whitewater coach Mark Fisher. "McIntosh has a great team. That's a big win for us."
McIntosh had a good game plan. They set out to shut down the big man for Whitewater, Phil Cofer. For most of the game they were able to, but he would break out late to finish with 21 points, 17 rebounds, and five blocks. He was also able to make the Chiefs pay when they sent him to the line, sinking 11 of 12 free throws.
When he was being locked down, plenty of Wildcats stepped up, especially Phil Garner. Garner scored a game-high 22 points, including four of eight on threes. Kyle Dugger added 13 points.
"At halftime, we said 'look, somebody else has gotta score' because they were gonna stay doubled on Phil," said Fisher. "Once we started penetrating, Phil got loose a little bit. It was just a good team effort."
McIntosh got a strong effort of their own. Their big man, Dishon Lowery, matched up well with Cofer, notching a number of big blocks to go along with 14 points. Jordan Lyons also tallied 14 while Will Washington scored 13.
The Chiefs were at their best in the second quarter when they went on a run to pull ahead 28-20. Whitewater would chip it back down to 30-24 at the half with a flourish as David Bowler launched a cross court pass to Cofer for a dunk.
The momentum went back and forth in the third quarter before Whitewater grabbed the lead at 45-44, their first lead since 20-19, on a pair of Dugger free throws. A Heath Allred jumper would stretch the lead to five before McIntosh's Connor Nash helped get it back down to one. A Garner tip-in at the buzzer would send the Wildcats into the fourth ahead 51-48.
McIntosh kept it close until late when the Cats got to work in the paint. Big buckets down low from Cofer and Justin Simpson-James pushed the lead to six with a minute to play. The Chiefs tried to make one more run, but Whitewater sank their free throws down the stretch to hold on to victory.
McIntosh will get their chance for revenge when they host Whitewater on Friday, January 31.
A fast improving Lady Wildcat squad took their next step forward with a 35-34 thriller over McIntosh in the opener.
Defense was the story of the night as Whitewater absolutely shut down the Lady Chiefs in the second half and even more so in the fourth quarter. The Wildcats allowed only 10 second half points and just one in the whole fourth quarter as they were able to turn a 24-16 halftime deficit into a one point win.
"That was a great defensive effort by that team. I'm so proud of them," Whitewater coach Rashad Muhyee said of his team. "They're getting better and better every game."
Whitewater's offense came on as the game wore on. They still almost came up short, but Kaelyn Dugger was clutch. Dugger's bank shot with just eight seconds left gave her team a one point lead. It was also their first lead of the game.
It took a lot of guts for Whitewater to keep pushing after a rough start that saw McIntosh, and especially Christine Cerezola, shoot the lights out from three early.
"McIntosh came out on fire, but we hung in there. We told them they can't do this all night. It's impossible to shoot that well all night," said Muhyee. "When we got down, I was afraid everybody would say 'let me do it,' but they didn't. They stuck together. This is a special group."
Muhyee's special group is making a habit out of breakthroughs for the program. Last year was the first winning season in the Lady Wildcats history. They added on their first ever state playoff trip. This win was their first ever over McIntosh.
The key to the turnaround is a deep team, but especially the trio up top led by senior Kaelyn Dugger.
"Kaelyn is the heart of this team," Muhyee said. "Whenever she plays hard, everyone plays hard."
Dugger had a huge night with 15 points and 16 rebounds. Junior Jada Coggins was right on her heels with 18 points and 12 rebounds.
Coggins earned special praise along with the grittiness of junior Rena Jenkins and senior Danielle Ross. "Rena is a tremendous point guard. She only sat for a 12 second break in the third quarter," Muhyee added. "Ross is the unsung hero. Everytime you look in the book, she'll have 10-12 points and 10-15 rebounds."
Even in the disappointing loss, McIntosh had some big performances. Christine Cerezola led the way with 16 points, including a red-hot first half that saw her sink five three pointers. Cassidy Williams added 11.