There’s no place better to become battle-tested than in the WCAC. Thursday night the #4 Bishop Ireton Cardinals won what had to be considered a major battle against rival #10 O’Connell, pulling away in the fourth quarter to defeat the Knights, 69-54.
For a team with championship aspirations like Ireton, the game was almost a must-win.
“I was excited to play tonight,” Ireton star center Akunna Konkwo said. “We have to compete as a team and fight hard every night to prove we can win a WCAC Championship.”
As usual, Konkwo did her part on Thursday. The senior and Boston College commit scored 25 points, hauled down 17 rebounds, and blocked shot after shot in the victory. She got a lot of help from her teammates as well. Sophomore Sole Carroll added 16 points while freshman Kennedy Clifton contributed 11. Those two young players, and others, are going to have to continue to rise to the occasion for the Cardinals to realize their goals.
Konkwo helped her team storm out of the gate, establishing herself in the post and sparking the Cards to an early 15-4 lead. But then early in the second quarter she picked up her second foul and sat for a while. The Knights, who had already started to battle back by that point, then went on an 11-0 run to take the lead at 24-23. O’Connell, which boasts a ton of team depth, benefitted from inspired play from senior forward Anna Hovis and solid bench contributions from freshman wing Aaliyah Carlock and senior center Simone Edmundson.
Ireton responded by battling back to take a 33-28 halftime lead, but again O’Connell came on strong. Knights sophomore forward Adrianna Smith who like Konkwo had been battling some foul trouble, asserted herself in the third to cut the Ireton lead to 40-39. The Knights started to do a little better job defensively on Konkwo, who had 15 points and 10 rebounds by halftime, and kept things close well into the fourth. Ireton held a slim lead, 55-53, with just over four minutes left in the game.
A 14-1 run put things away for the Cardinals. Konkwo got some key buckets inside and stopped O’Connell from getting looks in the paint. Ireton meanwhile pounded it inside, not just with Konkwo but with the other Cardinals driving the lane. A key lay-up by Carroll essentially put things away as her team expanding its lead to 61-54 with 1:30 left.
“I had to step up,” Carroll told me. “It was a really close game and we didn’t want to take the ‘L.’ “The goal was to be aggressive and take the ball to the basket.”
Cards Coach Kesha Walton confirmed as much. “In the fourth we wanted to go inside as much as possible,” she said. “Don’t force anything and get to the rack.”
The result was a solid victory over a team that figures to be neck-and-neck with Ireton in the standings for much of this year. O’Connell (4-3, 10-4) got an incredibly balanced team effort in the loss, with eight players delivering assists for Aggie McCormick Dix’s team and six players scoring at least seven points. Senior guard Maura Leverone led the the way with 10 points, while ultra-quick guard Maikya Simmons added nine. Junior forward Ajia James had eight points, as did Carlock and Edmundson. Smith had seven, while Hovis led her team with eight rebounds as the Knights were able to impressively match Konkwo and company in that statistic.
Guard Sydney Peters had five assists for Ireton (4-1, 10-5) and did a good job getting the ball inside to Konkwo. Fellow senior Symantha Shackelford had a nice all-around game off the bench, playing good defense and contributing seven points.
The two rivals will clash again February 12th at O’Connell.
all stats are unofficial
|Threes: Clifton 1-6, Carroll 0-3, Peters 0-2, Franklin 0-1, Shackelford 0-1|
|Threes: Leverone 2-7, Simmons 0-2, James 0-1|