By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
One step at a time. McKenzie Akers has her collegiate future set on the hardwood at Marshall, but the senior has more pressing matters on her mind right now.
“I am so thankful, God is good, but I want to go to state first,” Akers said. “That is what I am worried about.
Akers scored 28 points, including 13 in the second quarter, leading Princeton to a 60-48 Mountain State Athletic Conference victory over Capital on Friday night at Ralph Ball Court.
Princeton has many goals ahead before working for a trip to Charleston in March, starting tonight with a visit to George Washington. A win, and the Tigerettes could find themselves playing for the MSAC championship.
“It is such a big game, it determines whether we can play in the Night of Champions or not so we definitely want to do that too,” Akers said. “We are worried about that one,”
Khadija Payne added 10 points and 10 rebounds for Princeton, which led 13-4 after one quarter and 30-15 at the break. The Cougars could never get any closer than 13 in the second half, but Tigerettes’ head coach Debbie Ball still wasn’t satisfied, which is nothing unusual for a coach.
“I can complain, I am never happy unless we have executed what the game plan is and I didn’t really see that tonight,” Ball said. “Sometimes I think they overlook teams and when you are playing somebody else the next night — all of them do that — but Capital has really got a lot of talent on their team and they are quick and they gave us a fit so I have to hand it to them.”
Marissa Mullins contributed nine points for Princeton, which improved to 15-3 on the season. Up next is the Patriots, which lost to top-ranked Greenbrier East by two points on Wednesday.
“They almost upset East last night so they will probably be on kind of a high,” Ball said. “Of course we have to go on their floor, it is going to be a different game.”
Akers finished with three of Princeton’s seven 3s, and shot all 10 of the Tigerettes’ free throws. She scored the first four points of the game, and Mullins added seven to put Princeton up 13-4 going into the second period.
That was followed by an Akers’ 3 to open the second quarter, and Cougars never clawed within single digits again, but Akers knew that Ball wasn’t pleased with the way it was done.
“She wants us to run, run, run all the time,” Akers said. “Usually at this time of year we are supposed jelling, but we are kind of struggling right now so hopefully we can get it together before sectionals.”
Capital was paced by Tatiyana Wood, who came off the bench to score 14 points, while Khadijah Lee canned eight, and Daisha Foster gave the smaller Tigerettes trouble inside, scoring nine points.
“We have played a lot of big teams this year and it seems like we handled them a lot better than what we did tonight,” Ball said. “She is a little more athletic than some of them we have been playing.”
The Cougars managed to get within 39-26 late in the third quarter, but 3s by Akers and Ashley Culicerto pushed the margin back to 19. Akers took over in the final period, scoring eight points, as the 5-foot-7 senior has continued to improve on the court.
“I am still needing improvement, there is always something to work on,” Akers said. “I think with me being a senior and me being more mature on the floor, I think that has come a long way.”
Ball has definitely seen improvement from Akers, who was equally adept on this night, whether handling the ball, running the floor, dishing the ball for five assists, canning a trio of 3s or driving to the basket for more points.
“(McKenzie) sees the floor a lot better and she is a little more in control of things,” said Ball, of Akers, who broke the school’s scoring record for girls earlier this season. “She has worked on her shot and shooting a lot, when she is hitting people had better watch out.
“If she is not hitting her 3s she will try to take it in and get comfortable with the game and maybe if they leave her open she will take a 3.”
There was bad news for the Tigerettes, with Hannah Preservati, one of Princeton’s leading scorers, helped off the court with an injury in the third quarter.
“I hope she is going to be OK,” Akers said. “She is a warrior, she is playing with a torn ACL and still playing so hopefully she can come back, we need her.”
Ball added, “I don’t know how she is going to be, it kind of worries me.”
Princeton will host Oak Hill for Senior Night on Monday, and Ball is hoping the Tigerettes can start clicking as MSAC and sectional play begins later next week.
“I am hoping that we go on an upswing,” Ball said. “Sometimes I wonder, what are we doing right now.”
Akers’ brilliant prep career is winding to an end, having successfully followed in the footsteps of her talented sister, Tesla, a former Princeton standout and state tourney participant, who is now starring at Ferrum College.
“I am anxious, it is crazy how it is almost over, but I am excited, “ Akers said. “Hopefully we can go to states this year, I would really like to do that before we leave.
“That is something (Tesla) has on me, I haven’t been able to go to state yet.”
—Contact Brian Woodson
at Princeton Senior High School
Brianna Harris 2 0-0 4, Katie Crowder 0 2-2 2, Kearah Walker 2 0-0 5, Khadijah Lee 3 1-2 8, Daisha Foster 3 3-10 9, Tatiyana Wood 5 3-3 14, Tiffany Reavis 3 0-0 6, India Hairston 0 0-0 0. Totals 18 9-17 48.
McKenzie Akers 8 9-10 28, Marissa Mullins 4 0-0 9, Khadijia Payne 5 0-0 10, Hannah Preservati 0 0-0 0, Rachel Surface 0 0-0 0, Stephanie Lambert 2 0-0 5, Jessica Inman 2 0-0 5, Ashley Culicerto 1 0-0 3. Totals 22 9-10 60.
Capital..................................4 11 11 22 — 48
Princeton............................13 17 15 15 — 60
3-point goals: CP 3 (Wood 1, Walker 1, Lee 1); PR 7 (Akers 3, Inman 1, Culicerto 1, Mullins 1, Lambert 1). Total fouls: CP 14; PR 13. Fouled out: none. Technicals: none. JV—not played.