Lyons Township High School junior Kennedy Wanless continued her meteoric rise this girls basketball season by being named second team all-tournament at the Montini Christmas Tournament.
“I wasn’t really expecting it, so it was a big surprise,” Wanless said. “It meant a lot. I really worked hard out there. It’s nice to see that it’s really paying off in those types of games.”
On Jan. 7, Wanless once again was at the forefront as the Lions pulled out a 46-43 victory over Trinity in LaGrange to conclude the Grow the Game Tournament.
Her double-double with 14 points and 12 rebounds helped the Lions (13-4) overcome a 30-20 halftime deficit. That included six points and six rebounds in the fourth quarter, where LTHS took the lead for good at 34-32 on freshman Avery Mezan’s second three of the game with 6:31 left.
Senior Ally Cesarini, named the Lions’ Player of the Game, had nine points and seven rebounds. Sophomore Nora Ezike (6 rebounds) and Mezan each had eight points and Ella Ormsby had four.
“We did have some rough offensive possessions but we stuck together as a team to pull out a win, so it shows a lot of grit,” Wanless said.
The Lions were 8 of 24 shooting in the first half and outscored a combined 15-2 the final three minutes of both quarters. The Blazers scored eight unanswered points to pull ahead 14-9 and ended the half with a 10-2 run.
LTHS allowed just one third-quarter basket in closing to 32-29.
“We were missing a lot of close baskets. I think that a few days of practicing will help us see the ball go in,” LTHS coach Meghan Hutchens said. “Our defense did save us tonight. I had to keep reminding them for our defensive set. They did it really well and they did it when we needed it.”
In the final five minutes, Ormsby and Cesarini had key inside baskets and Wanless had a driving layup off a Cesarini pass.
Wanless also hit two sets of free throws, the second with 25.3 seconds left for a 45-41 lead.
“I feel like especially if my shots aren’t falling, as long as I’m rebounding it’s definitely a big thing I can contribute with, but today I had some points that I could contribute as well,” Wanless said.
The 5-foot-10 Wanless and 6-2 Ezike continue to grow as a combined inside force.
“[Wanless] was a beast the last two games for sure. She came alive for us when we needed it [against Trinity] and she was hitting her free throws, which we were struggling with as a team,” Hutchens said.
The Lions were showing the stain of the three-day tournament schedule. They were coming off losing 39-26 on Jan. 6 to Norcross, the reigning Georgia Class 7A state champions, and beating Thornton Fractional North 68-31 on Jan. 5.
LTHS Players of the Game were Cesarini on Jan. 6 and junior Elin O’Brien on Jan. 5 after collecting 22 points with six threes.
O’Brien’s points all came in the first half with 17 points and five threes in the Lions’ 26-point first quarter. Ezike and senior Maeve McDougal (2 threes) added eight points each.
On Jan. 6, Cesarini (11 points), Ormsby (6 points) and Wanless (4 points) were the only Lions with multiple baskets. Tied 15-15 at halftime, the Lions were shut out 14-0 in the third quarter.
“We got some good looks and we couldn’t quite finish them but I’m also going to give a lot of credit to Norcross because that was the best defense we’ve seen – I think – ever,” Hutchens said. “They just close gaps really quickly. We had to keep passing to get a different look and then we were pushed to our limits and started creating a few too many turnovers.”