Central Ohio basketball over the weekend. Gray scored a game-high 31 points to power the Firebirds to a 56-45 win
over Pickerington High School North in the title game of the annual
Kroger Holiday Classic on Sunday. For her efforts, Gray earned her second consecutive Classic MVP award.
PICKERINGTON – Before West Chester Lakota West’s Amber Gray embarks on her collegiate basketball career at the University of Tennessee, she left her mark on Central Ohio basketball over the weekend.
Gray scored a game-high 31 points to power the Firebirds to a 56-45 win over Pickerington High School North in the title game of the annual Kroger Holiday Classic on Sunday night at Pickerington North.
For her efforts, Gray earned her second consecutive Kroger Holiday Classic most valuable player award.
Last season, Gray guided West to the Kroger Classic crown following a 56-47 win over North in the title game.
The Firebirds remain perfect at 11-0 and the host Panthers drop to 9-2.
“Amber showed in this game in a lot of facets why she is the best player in the state, hands down,” West coach Andy Fishman said. “She dominated the game not only with her athletic ability and her shooting ability from the perimeter and from inside, but also with her mind. Her shot selection was excellent. She knew when to pull up, she knew when to pull it out, she knew when to stick the jump shot, she knew when to drive, she knew when to post up.”
“She's one of the best, if not the best, player in the country, and she played like it,” North coach Dave Butcher said. “We forced her to score from the perimeter and she went out and earned her points. Those shots weren't uncontested. She had hands in her face. We didn't lose this game by the way we played defense.”
West spotted North an early 8-0 lead before storming back to take a 28-20 halftime lead.
North’s Ashlen Stayrook scored 10 first-quarter points to help her team open a 14-6 advantage with 2:01 left in the quarter.
From there, Gray and her teammates took charge, outscoring the Panthers 20-0 over the next 8:21 to build a 26-14 lead with two minutes left in the half.
The Firebirds took the lead for good at 15-14 when Gray connected on two of three free throws with 6:03 left in the half.
North managed to cut the deficit to 28-20 at the break after going on a 6-0 spurt late in the half.
After being held in check early on, Gray scored 19 of her game-high points in the first half. Her first half highlights included a pretty between the legs dribble and subsequent foul line jumper midway through the second quarter.
The Firebirds remained in control throughout the third quarter, and led 42-31 heading into the final eight minutes.
After North closed to within 39-31 on Stayrook’s bucket in the lane, Gray helped push the lead back to 42-31 after three quarters following a pretty pass to Erica Almady for two and a three-point play with 1:13 remaining.
The Firebirds kept the Panthers at bay in the final quarter. After Brittney Callahan drained a 3-pointer from the corner to close the hosts within 44-34, Gray again took over hitting a baseline jumper, a floating shot down the lane and 3-pointer from the top of the key to push the lead to 51-34 with 4:25 remaining.
Stayrook led the Panthers with 14 points followed by Callahan with 10.
We expected them to pressure the ball with two or three different types of presses and they were effective,” Butcher said. “We tried to play too quickly. You've got to play a perfect game to beat them, and we played well for probably two and one-half quarters. We needed to attack the basket and get them in foul trouble. We didn't execute well offensively.”
Joining Gray on the all-tournament team for a second consecutive time were teammates Tessa Elkins and Alexis Rogers.
Completing the squad were North’s Callahan, Stayrook and Brittany Gamby, Oak Ridge’s Kortni Jones and Jazzmine Hazzard, Kettering Fairmont’s Briana Welch, Warminster (Pa.) Wood Catholic's Ashley Robinson, Pittsburgh Oakland Catholic’s Colleen Kiss, Boardman’s Courtney Schiffauer and Louisville (Ky.) Mercy Academy’s Kelly Cox.
Wood Catholic’s Lisa Strack won the Heart and Hustle Award.
“It’s a great environment for girls basketball here,” Fishman said. “We know we’re going to play top notch competition in the first two games and we know we’re going to get Pickerington North in the championship game.”