After Kirk's basket, the Lady Eagles (7-6, 1-2 Region 6A-A) reeled off nine more points, opening up an 11-0 lead, before the Lady Lions (3-7, 2-1) were able to get on the board with a free throw almost six minutes into the game. That was the plan MZ coach Bill Bailey laid out, and his team executed it.
"We told them we had to come out and we wanted to get the opening tip and get them down and keep them down. We didn't want them to get happy at all, and we did that. We had them [16-4] and I think they made a [6-0] run," Bailey said. "It was real big. Any time you can come out and let someone know you're ready to play."
Getting that first region win is a little bit of a monkey off the Lady Eagles' back, as they look for a return trip to the Class A state playoffs after missing out last season.
"We know we're going to have our hands full when we play Darlington, Southwest Atlanta [Christian] and Gordon Lee. We've got to go through those games and come out better. I think good competition makes you better. In spurts, we played good [Tuesday] and we're still making some mistakes that we need to iron out. We're hitting the home stretch. We're at the halfway mark. After [Tuesday], we've got 11 left," Bailey said. "Good win to get in the region and gives us an idea of where we are."
Mt. Zion also used Kirk, along with Alexis Jordan, and an entire team effort to out-rebound Christian Heritage, 46-25. That advantage kept the Lady Lions from getting second-chance points while allowing for second opportunities themselves.
"We told them one shot and we did that early on. We gave them one shot, and teams that give us trouble give more than one shot," Bailey said. "When somebody shoots, all five of us block out and we have to get the rebound. Too many stick-ups. We can't have that and I thought we did a real good job with that early on."
The Lady Eagles went into the halftime break up, 33-17, and would hold a double-digit lead throughout the rest of the game. The lead reached 20-plus points toward the end of the third quarter and would never drop below 17 for the final eight minutes of the contest.
It was a balanced attack for MZ, as all eight players who stepped on the court for Bailey made an impact. Overall, Jordan Crews and Jennifer Bagby paced the team with 13 points, but it was Kirk's 12-point, 16-rebound night that led the way for the Lady Eagles. Jordan added nine points, Bagby grabbed nine boards, while Toni Hammond added six points and seven rebounds.
"Jennifer Bagby had a good game, Quavadis Kirk shot the ball real well. She's shooting the ball real good. We've got to get all five of our girls as being a threat to score. I thought we got some good minutes out of Brittney McIntosh, Corrssia Perry and Madison Barrow, and we've got to have that. It's good to have eight players back in the rotation," Bailey said.
After facing two of the top teams in the region to open the 6A-A slate, Bailey was proud of the way his team came out on Tuesday night. It now has to prepare for a tough Gordon Lee team on Friday and two more next week.
"We've got Gordon Lee and next week we've got Excel [Christian] and Trion. We want to come out of these next three region games with at least two [wins]. We'd like to have all three of them, but two out of three will put us right in the thick of it of being one of the top four [in the sub-region]," Bailey said.
Heritage Christian boys 56, Mt. Zion 52: Until the closing minute of the first half, neither team had more than a four-point lead, but the Eagles (7-5, 1-1) couldn't hold on late, dropping the sub-region contest.
The first quarter was a back-and-forth battle that ended in a 14-all tie before the Tigers (4-4, 1-2) started to pull away late in the second quarter. Christian Heritage's Will Patterson scored the final five points of the quarter with a 3-pointer, followed by being fouled taking a trey with just .3 seconds left and making two of those free throws for a 29-23 advantage going into the halftime break.
"I felt like if we could pressure them defensively and force turnovers early that we'd have a pretty good night. Just the first half, we weren't doing that and let them hang around. I think if we had pressured them a little bit more, we might have been able to go on a run. Just silly turnovers in the first half and they were getting putbacks, shooting fast-break layups and we were turning the ball over," MZ coach Joey Marinelli said.
The Eagles responded coming out of the locker room and outscored Christian Heritage, 15-8, in the third to open up a 40-37 lead going into the final eight minutes. That's when things stopped going MZ's way.
"We made a run in the third quarter and just couldn't make free throws down the stretch to hang onto it," Marinelli said. "We talk about that a lot. If you're going to win a close game, you have to win the third quarter. We did that [Tuesday]. We just couldn't finish."
On the night, MZ went just 7-of-21 from the free-throw line, including a 2-of-5 clip in the fourth with a pair of misses on the front end of 1-and-1 attempts while trailing by four.
Cohen Pannell led the Eagles with 14 points and six rebounds, while Corey Loftin and Nathan Bernhardt added 10 points each. Bernhardt rounded out the double-double with 11 rebounds.
The Eagles will have to regroup before hosting Gordon Lee on Friday.
"We've got Gordon Lee, and we know they're always tough. We just have to go to work [Wednesday] and Thursday and hope we show up and play a little smarter basketball on Friday," Marinelli said.