Lady Crimsons’ explosive backcourt leads them over Eastern in Region 7 tournament

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Jaela Johnson (10, #33) drives to the basket. Photo by Jordyn Stumpf.

RJ Radcliffe

Jaela Johnson (10, #33) drives to the basket. Photo by Jordyn Stumpf.
Jaela Johnson (10, #33) drives to the basket. Photo by Jordyn Stumpf.

With the first quarter of the girls’ basketball Region 7 tournament semifinals coming to a close, it looked like this game was going to be a battle between the duPont Manual Lady Crimsons and the Eastern Lady Eagles. The teams seemed evenly matched throughout the 12-11 first quarter, trading blows like heavyweight champions. Manual guard Tonysha Curry (11, #23) set the tone of the game early by splashing home a three for the Lady Crimsons, but Eastern answered right back with a trey of their own. Both teams were getting easy looks at the bucket but neither could convert, and all of the missed shots created a plethora of transition opportunities for both teams that neither could capitalize on. The only difference was rebounding, where the Eagles had been dominating the boards all night against the Crimsons and getting a number of second chance opportunities. It looked like this game was shaping up to go the distance until a little under a minute into the second quarter, when the backcourt tandem of Curry and Jaela Johnson (10, #33) caught fire, leading Manual to a scorching 15-3 run for Manual en route to a 19-4 second quarter.

“My teammates were making pretty good passes and I was just playing my game,” Johnson said. “I knew we had to get the win.”

Johnson had been showcasing the signs of a ballhawk all night, with multiple tipped passes in the first quarter, but she became a defensive anchor for the Lady Crimsons in the second, racking up a pair of steals, including one that she took coast-to-coast for the first two points of Manual’s impressive run. While both Curry and Johnson had been hot all night, scoring all of Manual’s 12  first quarter points (with eight and four points respectively), they really gathered momentum in the second quarter. Despite being called for multiple traveling violations, Curry still managed to put up 13  points on 4/6 shooting and made three of five free throws in the half, as well as grab six boards. Meanwhile, Johnson shot her way to 10 points on 4/10 shooting and made two of three free throws. Compounded by Manual bigs Nila Blackford (9, #41) and Krys McCune (12, #55) gaining control of the boards and leading Manual to 27-18 rebounding advantage (with six and five boards respectively), and the Lady Crimsons were in the perfect position to cruise to a comfortable 31-15 lead by the end of the half and seemed poised to put the game away for good.

The Lady Crimsons came out just as hot in the second half, scoring their first points on a free throw line jumper by McCune and following it up with two consecutive three-pointers by Amara Ballard (12, #11) and Johnson. Johnson exploded in the second half, racking up two more steals thanks in part to the full-court press Manual Head Coach Jeff Sparks implemented during the third quarter, and utilizing her immense athleticism and lightning-quick acceleration to push the ball up in transition and lead the team to an 48-26 lead at the end of the third.

Despite giving up an 11-4 run early in the fourth quarter, the Lady Crimsons managed to regain their footing and continue their dominant ways throughout the rest of the fourth quarter and to the final buzzer The Lady Eagles simply had no answer for the explosive backcourt of Johnson and Curry. Johnson finished the game with 21 points on 7/19 shooting with three rebounds, three assists and four steals, while Curry finished with 17 points on 6/8 shooting, along with seven rebounds. McCune also poured in 12 points on 5/5 shooting and 10 rebounds, while Blackford chipped in eight rebounds. With a multitude of all-star performances, a 48.1 percent free throw percentage and a defense that held Eastern to only 23.6 percent on field goals, Manual was able to easily overcome  Eastern in a 68-37 victory.

“We played as a team,” Johnson said. “We shared the ball and we played defense really, really well.”

After tonight’s victory, the Crimsons move on to the to Region 7 tournament finals, where they will face rival Male high school in a rematch of their Feb. 20 loss.

“It’s exciting,” Johnson said. “We’ve just got to go in and play our game. It’s good to see Male again.”

After a blistering start to the Region 7 tournament, where Manual has defeated Assumption 55-33 on Feb. 29 and Eastern 68-37 on Mar. 2, the Lady Crimsons feel confident about their match-up against Male.

“We’re just going to go in and play our game,” said Johnson. “Just box out, play good defense, and the offense will come.”

If the Lady Crimsons can defeat Male, they will move on to the state tournament in Rupp Arena.

Manual will take on Male at Valley High School on Saturday, Mar. 5 at 7:30 p.m.