By Carey Phillips
Smoky Mountain’s women’s basketball team opened Mountain Six Conference play with a 52-40 win Jan. 7 at Pisgah.
Kyra Fowler and Natalie Parris both scored 14 points for the Lady Mustangs, and Kevonna Tushka had 11.
Carter Gibson led the Sugar Bears with 14.
“We knew we were in hostile territory,” Coach Ollin Dunford said. “We started a theme early in the week. I bought the girls camouflage sweaters for Christmas. We thought we would wear camouflage sweaters and go bear hunting.”
SM led from the opening basket, a three-pointer by Parris nine seconds into the game.
“The frame of mind was there from the start,” Dunford said. “They were focused and definitely ready to play. The game plan was to not get outworked. There was a buy-in from the word go. I was so impressed with their effort. Even when we got a little fatigued we were able to go to our bench and they gave us minutes. The bench was energetic, and that flowed over to the people on the floor.”
He cited Parris and Fowler for their play as well as Tushka, Lucy McRae and Melanie Hoyle.
“This game was really important for us because we were coming off a hard loss,” Parris said. “As a team, I knew we needed to come together. Everyone was really excited after the game. We were all having fun in the locker room.”
Speaking of the fast start, she said, “We knew we had to get a lead to get our momentum. Whenever it would get close, Kyra or someone would get the momentum back up so we were good to work together.”
SM scored the first quarter’s final eight points, including four by Tushka, to lead 15-6.
The margin reached 23-9 on Parris’ three-point play with 3:42 to go in the half, and it was 29-17 at intermission.
Fowler scored eight, including a pair of three-pointers, in a 12-2 spurt for the game’s largest lead, 43-26, with 2:26 remaining in the third period.
Pisgah scored the last six points of the quarter narrowing the deficit to 43-32.
Gibson scored the first five points of the fourth period capping an 11-0 run and bringing the Sugar Bears within 43-37 at the 6:02 mark.
SM’s defense rose to the occasion and allowed just three points the rest of the game.
Fowler made five field goals, including two three-pointers, and two of two foul shots. Parris hit four field goals, including a trey, and was five of five from the line.
Tushka made four field goals, including a three-pointer, and two free throws.
McRae added six points, Hoyle scored five and Allison Macke had two.
The Lady Mustang JVs won 46-36 as Xalia Spencer scored 12 points.
SM led at quarter breaks by scores of 9-5, 21-14 and 30-29.
“There’s always a sense of relief when you get your first conference win of the season, especially when you get it at Pisgah,” Coach Jason Melvin said. “It’s always such a loud and intense atmosphere, but our team responded beautifully to it. In the beginning, it felt like calls weren’t going our way and shots weren’t dropping, but no one made any excuses and we continued to play hard. We were able to get big stops on defense and turned those into points on the other end. Our post players did a great job battling to get rebounds, and our guards were relentless putting pressure on the ball-handlers. We had a game plan, and the team executed it very well. They played great and definitely earned this win.”