By Chris Teale (Photo/Chris Teale)
Time after time Tuesday night, the ball made its way to Akunna Konkwo under the hoop, and almost immediately the 6-foot-3 sophomore center had to face two defenders.
But her opponents’ efforts would largely be in vain, as Konkwo shrugged off their attentions and helped the Bishop Ireton girls basketball team beat Washington Catholic Athletic Conference opponent Elizabeth Seton 55-48.
Not only did Konkwo lead her team with a double-double of 27 points and 14 rebounds from near the basket, she also took advantage of the increased attention to swing the ball to the perimeter to open shooters. Her Ireton teammates then took advantage of the open shots to punish the Seton defense for leaving them unmarked.
“If you are a good basketball player and you can make a basket, you want to play on [Konkwo’s] team because she’s always commanding the double teams so somebody is always going to be open, based on how much attention she draws,” said Cardinals head coach Jason Harris. “She’s good in the sense that she scores a lot, but she also draws a lot of attention and helps her teammates out. She’s very unselfish although she scores a lot of points.”
For the players, having such an offensive weapon is helpful, especially one that dominates the glass and can post up de- fenders after catching a high pass from a teammate.
“You can just throw it up to her and she’ll get it and make the layup,” said Cardinals sophomore guard Sydney Peters.
Ireton trailed only briefly in the early stages of the first quarter, then took the lead later in the period. The teams see-sawed back and forth during the first half before Ireton pulled away for good.
At one stage in the first half, the Cardinals led by 10 points, but the Roadrunners came roaring back late in the second quarter on a 10-2 scoring run to level the tally at 24 apiece.
In the closing stages of the first half, Ireton sophomore guard Symantha Shacklford nailed a three-pointer created by a double team on Konkwo to put the hosts back in the lead.
“A lot of the times they double-teamed Akunna, so someone just goes through the middle and they shoot a free shot and make it,” said Peters.
That would be the closest Seton got to gaining the upper hand, as the Cardinals held off their opponents for the win, and avenged a 49-47 defeat to the same team earlier this season.
“We needed a signature win in this league at home,” Harris said. “We got one on the road last week against Bishop McNa- mara [by 62-57]. I felt like they came out, they were poised and handled the pressure really well, they were hungry and came away with the win.”
Peters added 11 points for Ireton, while guard Kennedy Fairfax and forward Sydney Kennard both grabbed seven rebounds. Fairfax also had nine assists for the Cardinals. Seton’s scorers were led by junior guard Taylor Clayborne and senior guard Adrianne Hagood, who had 10 and 12 points, respectively.
The victory improved Ireton’s record on the season to 17-7 overall, and 8-7 in WCAC play. It also kept the Cardinals in fifth place in the conference standings, albeit ahead of a Bishop O’Connell squad that has played one game less at the time of writing. Ireton will return to action Friday at home against Archbishop Carroll.
Having already recorded the most wins in program history, beating the team’s feat from two seasons ago during Harris’ first year in charge, the players are determined to keep pushing on.
“Every year we’ve gotten better and better,” Harris said. “We’re excited about it, but we’re still hungry for more. We’re young, but we have some seniors who don’t want to quit yet and don’t want to end. They don’t really care about what’s going to happen next year, they care about what’s going to happen now, so they’re still hungry, which is great.”
The Cardinals are hopeful they can make a splash in the highly competitive WCAC postseason against a series of difficult opponents. With them likely to be the No. 5 or No. 6 seed, Ireton would face a road trip against one of the higher-ranked teams, but Harris said they are up to the task.
“Anything’s possible for us right now,” Harris said. “We have no limitations on what we do, it doesn’t matter who we play. We had a really tough game against Paul VI [an 85-54 loss on February 3], even though they beat us badly, we still played really well and to the best of our capabilities. It’s about us doing the best that we can, and not about what the other teams are doing. As long as we perform the best we can, we’re going to be happy whatever the results are.”