FRANKFORT — Mindi Gregory’s in-game scouting report said it all.
Early in the third quarter of Thursday’s Division II sectional final contest, the Athens senior tried to make a cross-court pass, but the attempt sailed well over the head of teammate Kianna Benton. Gregory looked back to the bench, found her coach, Seth Matheny, and mouthed the words:
“She needs to be taller!”
The rest of the Bulldogs could have benefitted from a growth spurt, too. Top-seeded, No. 1 state-ranked and undefeated Circleville used the high-and-mighty approach in cruising to a 61-34 victory.
The Tigers (23-0) sported only two players taller than 5’9”, but they were 6’1” senior Meghan Davis and 6’0” junior Kenzie McConnell, and that was all they really needed. The duo combined to dominate the game at both ends of the floor. Davis finished with eight points and 13 rebounds, but her stat line paled in comparison to McConnell, who racked up 27 points — on 12-of-14 shooting — all while grabbing 15 ricochets, dishing out five assists, and swatting three shots.
“A woman among girls” is how the Athens coaching staff described McConnell.
“We tried to jump in and out of different defenses, but Circleville is just a phenomenal team,” said Matheny. “On one end, their size alters every shot and every pass, their length cuts off every dribbling angle. Then, when we were on defense, we knew they were going to work the high-low game. It was our No. 1 concern going in, but we still couldn’t stop it, no matter what we tried to do.”
Against man-to-man, McConnell and Davis would just back the smaller Bulldogs down. When Matheny switched to zone, Circleville spread the floor and created space for McConnell in the high post, from where she could look for Davis on the block or guards Brie Kendrick and Tori Bircher crashing in from the corners.
Ten of Circleville’s 11 first-quarter field goals came in the paint — five from McConnell and three each from Davis and Kendrick — as it built an insurmountable 21-point lead.
Athens (4-20), the district’s 17th seed, had its most success when it opened the second frame in a half-court trap. Gregory would team with Laura Manderick on one side, or with Harper Bennett on the other, and when the Tiger guards would try to get the ball back out to the point, Benton would step in for the interception, which she did three times.
Circleville made the proper adjustment, however, and began instead to look for McConnell at the foul line or to Peyton Perini in the corner, who would quickly bounce a pass into Davis on the block before the Bulldog defenders could recover.
The Tigers’ lead swelled to 30 by halftime, and it reached its zenith, 55-15, early in the third quarter before Athens finished with a flurry in the fourth. Manderick, freed from the shackles of a variety of collapsing, extended double-teams, drained four quick 3-pointers late, and Gregory added her second of the game for good measure.
For Manderick, the quartet of triples gave her 16 points on the night, for a career total of 1,322. That was the only real highlight of the night for Matheny’s team, however. Unless, of course, one counts the fact it was playing in the contest at all, having won its first tournament game and having reached its first sectional final in five years.
“There were things we wanted to do tonight that I thought we did very well,” he said. “The 2-2-1 press that Circleville runs was a large concern, and whether they came with it at half-court or three-quarters court, it didn’t seem to give us any problems.
“But, once we broke their pressure, we couldn’t do much with it. Their size bothered us. It made us nervous, and we rushed things. We didn’t set good enough screens to free up our shooters, and when we did get looks, we didn’t set our feet and we rushed our shots,” Matheny added.
Circleville 61, Athens 34
Athens 9 5 7 13 — 34
Circleville 30 14 15 2 — 61
ATHENS 34 (4-20)
Laura Manderick 5 2-2 16, Harper Bennett 2 0-0 4, Mindi Gregory 2 1-4 7, Kesi Federspiel 1 1-2 3, Kianna Benton 0 2-2 2, Bailey Cordray-Davis 0 0-0 0, Olivia Banks 0 0-0 0, Annika Benton 0 0-0 0, Emily Zuber 0 0-0 0, Emmarald Jean-Francois 1 0-0 2, Maggie Schlicher 0 0-0 0; TOTALS 11 6-10 34; 3-pt field goals: 6 (Manderick 4, Gregory 2).
CIRCLEVILLE 61 (23-0)
Peyton Perini 1 1-2 4, Tori Bircher 2 0-0 4, Meghan Davis 3 2-2 8, Brie Kendrick 6 2-3 14, Kenzie McConnell 12 2-2 27, Alaina Francis 0 0-0 0, Logan Jones 0 0-0 0, Morgan Blakeman 2 0-0 4, Sidney Gray 0 0-0 0, Jordan Rhymer 0 0-0 0,; TOTALS 26 7-9 61; 3-pt field goals: 2 (Perini, McConnell).
TEAM STATISTICS/INDIVIDUAL LEADERS
Field goals — Athens 11-39 (.282), 3-pt field goals 6-17 (.353); Circleville 26-49 (.531), 3-pt field goals 2-8 (.250); Free throws – Athens 6-10 (.600); Circleville 7-9 (.778); Rebounds – Athens 16 (Federspiel 4), Circleville 37 (McConnell 15); Assists – Athens 7 (Davis, Annika Benton, Manderick, Bennett, Federspiel, Jean-Francois, Schlicher), Circleville 21 (McConnell 5); Steals – Athens 7 (Kianna Benton 3), Circleville 4 (Perini, Bircher, Davis, Kendrick); Blocked shots – Athens 2 (Bennett, Manderick), Circleville 4 (McConnell 3); Turnovers – Athens 11, Circleville 12; Team fouls – Athens 6, Circleville 8.