NEW MARTINSVILLE - River coach Rick Isaly has a talented, but inexperienced, bunch.
One of the girls he is counting on for leadership is returning starter Cassidy McCullough.
The junior point guard showed just why Isaly is so high on her with a 24-point performance against Magnolia in a 60-50 victory at Magnolia High School.
Magnolia’s Katie Blatt (22) drives against River’s Emily Dierkes (12) during Wednesday night’s game.
Photo by Josh Strope
''Cassidy is a really hard worker,'' Isaly said. ''She works hard all the time. She never gives up. The way she took the ball to basket was really impressive. On defense, we put her on (Mallory) Chapman because she was hurting us and shut her down more than we were able to do in the first half.''
Magnolia trailed the entire first half but kept it close and kept chipping away. Finally the Blue Eagles broke through with the first basket of the second half, a 3-pointer from the top of the arc by Chapman for a 29-27 lead, the first of the game.
Baskets by Kiera Standiford and Dallas Mullett stretched the Magnolia lead, forcing a timeout by Isaly.
After two free throws by River's Haylee Bowers to bring the Pilots within two, McCullough took over.
An easy layup tied the score and after a Magnolia turnover, she nailed a jumper from just inside the 3-point line to put River back on top.
She scored on another layup for six straight points that swung the momentum clearly back in River's favor.
''I was pleased with how well we came back,'' Isaly said. ''I was a little worried but we always know that Magnolia is going to play us tough.
''We just weren't making shots until Cassidy came up big, and then the other girls started making shots, too. We went to man-to-man defense and kind of tightened them down.''
McCullough had eight of her 24 points in the quarter as River closed the third on a 10-2 run.
In the fourth quarter, River forced three turnovers in Magnolia's first four possessions, leading to two easy baskets from Bowers (including a plus-one) and a steal and wide-open layup from McCullough.
Magnolia, still searching for its first victory, never got closer than seven the rest of the way. The Blue Eagles, who play a number of freshmen, played much better than in recent blowout losses and Coach Dave Chapman was pleased with the effort.
''We played so hard, so well, and the effort was good,'' Coach Chapman said. ''We had some breakdowns in the third and fourth quarter and couldn't take care of the basketball. We are getting better. I tell the girls that it is not about winning basketball games right now, it's about getting better. We are a better basketball team than we were a couple nights ago.
''Once we make a mistake, it seems like everything follows. Those are just things you have to work through. (McCullough) is quick and got into the passing lanes. She really hurt us down the stretch.''
Joining McCullough in doubles figures was Landyn Ramsay off the bench with 10 points.
Mallory Chapman paced the Blue Eagles with 17 points, followed by Mullett with 16.
''We are 6-2 right now and it's the best start since I've been here,'' Isaly said. ''They haven't all been pretty but a win is a win.''