Manual Advances to 7th Region Finals

Manual’s Nila Blackford picked up her fourth foul in the third quarter of her teams game with Eastern. Blackford admitted after the game she committed a couple silly fouls.

It didn’t matter though, as Manual would go on to beat Eastern 58-52.

Blackford a 6-foot-1 center who has committed to play at Kent State scored 16 of her 26 points in the second half as the Lady Crimsons advanced to the Girls’ Seventh Region championship game Monday night.

Blackford finished making eight of 11 shots from the floor and eight of 11 free throws. She had 11 rebounds before fouling out with six seconds to play.

“Game honors toughness. That really means a lot to us,” said Blackford who was talking about a motivational phrase coach Jeff Sparks wears on his under shirt. “It’s really true. We just ride along that wave playing tough every single game we get.”

Manual (21-9) will play Male a 70-37 winner over Sacred Heart at Valley on Monday at 6. The Lady Crimsons won last season’s regional title.

Eastern had beaten Manual twice earlier this season and had a 33-25 lead with 2:05 in the third quarter. But Manual got 14 points from Kennedy Lee, 10 in the second half rallied.

A three point basket by Tedi Nunn gave the Eagles a 37-34 lead early in the fourth quarter. From that point on the Crimson got things rolling. A Blackford layup with 1:12 left put Manual up 51-47. Four straight free throws by Nyah Smith pushed the lead to 55-49. Eastern could get no closer than 55-51 on a layup by Nunn with 28 seconds.

A Blackford layup pushed the lead to 57-51 with 18 seconds and Manual was on its way.

“Kennedy has stepped up tremendously and other freshman have stepped up. I couldn’t be more proud of them,” said Blackford.

Mikayla Kinnard led Eastern with 14 points while Nunn added 11. Kiara Pearl, who has committed to Vanderbilt University and averaged 18 points this season had four points and five rebounds. Pearl was two of 12 from the field.

Eastern had a tough shooting night making 21 of 60 for 35 percent which included 0 for 17 from three point range.

“We tried to get everyone to attack which kind of really didn’t work,” said Kinnard. “We shot badly from three point, in the middle.”

“We got frustrated and we got tired. We just couldn’t get the energy up” said Kinnard.

“(Blackford) is really, really strong. She gets to where she wants to go. Good players are going to make shots. We tried to slow her down as much as possible.”

Manual finished shooting 38.3 percent. In the second half the Lady Crimsons where 14 of 29. They were just four of 18 for 22 percent the first half.

“There is no way in the world we bounce back from that first half if these kids aren’t tough,” said Sparks. “It was an ugly, ugly half. They got us rattled for sure. No doubt about it and we got in foul trouble to boot.

“We were down six and felt a little lucky on that. We talked about that at the half. We told them it’s a two quarter game now.”

Sparks was happy with the play especially the second half of Ayanna Stroud and Lee who had eight rounds and three assist.

Sparks said his young team was able to rally behind Blackford’s leadership. “Just to have her presence out there not only her skill on the floor. Just her presence was a big deal. It’s just something a little special going on with this group.”

Eastern (20-10) had its seven game winning streak stopped ends short of its goal.

“It’s always a disappointment, “said Kinnard. “Win a state title is something you want to do.”