With a step-back jumper, Paul Dunbar’s Mashayla Cecil might have stepped forward in the conversation about who is the best girls’ basketball player in Lexington.
The Bulldogs and No. 7 Simon Kenton were tied at 65 with less than 30 seconds to play after a back-and-forth battle in the opening round of the Traditional Bank Holiday Classic at Lexington Catholic on Tuesday night. On the game’s final possession, Cecil dribbled in place at the top of the key as the clock wound down. The Pioneers were determined to keep her out of the paint after the speedy senior guard had torched them for 27 points. Two defenders hovered near Cecil on the perimeter as she dribbled forward, then jumped back and fired a deep three-pointer that banked home at the buzzer for a 68-65 Dunbar win.
Dunbar Coach Nick Runyon said he never thought about drawing up a complicated play on the final possession aimed at fooling the Pioneers.
“The whole plan was just to get the ball to ’Shay; that was it,” Runyon said with a laugh after a rowdy celebration in the Bulldogs’ locker room. “She’s a clutch performer. I’m very comfortable with her having the ball in her hands in tough late-game situations. She’s a hell of an athlete and she’s a great point guard.”
Cecil said her initial plan on the final play was to get to the basket.
“I thought the best thing to do was drive and get a quick bucket, but there wasn’t an opening,” she said. “So then I thought ‘You know, it’s tied, I’m just gonna go for this shot. If it goes in it goes in, if not then we’ve still got overtime.’ They didn’t step out on me so I just pulled it, and it’s a good thing it went in.”
Runyon said the win gives the Bulldogs a head of steam heading into a hectic portion of the schedule that will see them compete in the Gateway Holiday Classic at Montgomery County right on the heels of the tournament at LexCath. Simon Kenton beat the Bulldogs twice last season, and Runyon said those losses were on the Bulldogs’ minds.
“Getting this momentum for us is big. ... We had a little bit of a revenge factor heading into this game and the girls were focused on that. I think that definitely helped us a little bit.”
Cecil, who was averaging 25.6 points heading into Tuesday, finished with 30 points on nine of 16 field-goal shooting, including a 4-for-5 clip from behind the arc. She also hit all eight of her foul shots and grabbed seven rebounds.
After Cecil scored 20 points in the first half, Simon Kenton routinely double-teamed her in the second. But the Bulldogs found an offensive spark from a pair of younger players. Cheyenne Fullwood scored six of her 12 points in the third quarter as the Bulldogs cut Simon Kenton’s lead to 47-46 heading into the fourth. Freshman wing Elise Ellison-Coons scored 12 of her 14 points after halftime. Ellison-Coons also pulled down a team-high 11 rebounds and added three steals and three blocks.
“We know that the game plan is you’re going to scout us is to take ’Shay away, but I have every bit of confidence in all of our girls. Cheyenne played great, Elise played great. We came in with an idea of what (Simon Kenton) was going to do, and when they tried to take away ’Shay our other girls stepped up and made big-time buckets.”
As for Cecil’s big-time game-winning bucket, Fullwood never had a doubt.
“I had total faith in ’Shay that she was gonna make that shot,” Fullwood said. “It was amazing, we were all like, ‘’Shay has it.’ We all fought to stay in that game and we knew she was gonna finish it off.”
PAUL DUNBAR 68, SIMON KENTON 65
At Lex. Catholic
Simon Kenton (3-3) — Bush 2, Jones 12, Stamper 15, Harmeyer 22, Krohman 10, Buckner 4.
Paul Dunbar (5-2) — Ellison-Coons 14, Cecil 30, Fullwood 12, Humphreys 3, Hill 7, Cotton 2.
Traditional Bank Holiday Classic
When: Tuesday through Saturday
Where: Lexington Catholic, Alumni and Bueter gyms
Lincoln Co. 53, Russell 47
Paul Laurence Dunbar 68, Simon Kenton 65
Ryle 76, East Carter 37
South Laurel 64, Eastern 56
Lexington Catholic vs. Highlands, 6:30
Scott vs. Hazard, 6:30
Ashland vs. Betsy Layne, 8
Cooper vs. Floyd Central, 8