By: Jim Steele
When McKenzie gets into the post-season in the next few weeks, its performances Saturday night against visiting Stewart County may serve the Rebels and Lady Rebels well.
MHS swept a tough, well-coached tandem in a make-up game and the atmosphere had a do-or-die tournament feel. The Lady Rebels defeated their guests 39-35 while the McKenzie boys edged Stewart County 55-54. McKenzie's girls have won three in a row while the Rebels have won 10 of their last 11.
In the opener, the Lady Rebels held a lead for 14:22, but found themselves in a battle against a Stewart County team that executed very well on offense. The two teams were tied at 23 going into the fourth.
Stewart County eased in front 32-29 with 2:45 to play when McKenzie freshman Lilly Bennett took over. With 2:11 to play, she scored twice in 54 seconds to give MHS a 33-32 lead, a lead the Lady Rebs would not relinquish. Stewart County was working the ball to take a lead when Bennett stole the ball at the 1:05 mark. McKenzie's Shelby Davis connected on two free throws as a result of the possession. The Lady Rebs led 35-32. Davis added two more free throws with :37 to play for a five-point lead, 37-32. Bennett put the lid on the victory with a pair for freebies at the :04 mark.
Bennett led the Lady Rebels with 14 points, Bailey Nelson tossed in eight, Shelby Butler scored seven, Shelby Davis six and Jacey Davis recorded three. The Lady Rebs were 14-17 from the free throw line. Holli Shepherd scored 17 and Britni Rowlett had 14 for Stewart County.
In the nightcap, McKenzie attacked the middle in the first half and crafted a 28-15 lead deep into the second quarter. Stewart County gave a bit of a preview of what was come in the second half during the final :45 of the first half. James Stultz buried a three and Stewart County trailed 28-20.
Stewart County began the third with a barrage of three-pointers and quickly turned an eight-point deficit into a 10-point lead. The road-faring Rebels hit five threes and went 9-of-13 from the floor. McKenzie struggled to slow down the juggernaut and Stewart County led 44-38 going into the final frame. Stewart County hit its first three shots, including a triple from Ezra McElroy to start things off. Soon, the lead had billowed to 10, 50-40.
McKenzie made an adjustment by shifting to a soft man defense. From there, Stewart County missed its next four shots from the floor, which allowed McKenzie a chance to get back in the hunt. Trailing 52-42, McKenzie's Lucas King drained a three ball, followed by a deuce and the Rebels began a 10-0 run. Nate Whitsell converted a three-point play with 3:40 to remaining, then Micah Austin connected on a pair of free throws 47 seconds later. McKenzie had knotted the game at 52, prompting Stewart County to call a time out.
Stewart County's Jacob Rose gave his team its last lead, 54-52, with :28 left, but King consolidated a three-point play with :14 left to put the Rebels up 55-54. Randall Nolen attempted a half-court heave at the buzzer, but McKenzie came away with the victory.
Rose led Stewart County with 18 points. The visiting Rebels hit nine two-point shots and 10 triples.
Ben Austin, who asserted himself inside in the first half, finished with 20 points. King finished with 14, Micah Austin scored nine, Whitsell had eight, Tyler Spivey carded three and Lazarik Hill scored one. The Rebels hit four triples and were 11-14 from the line.
The Lady Rebels improve to 14-9 overall while the MHS boys are 16-5. McKenzie visits Gleason Monday, then heads to Hollow Rock-Bruceton Central Tuesday.