MIKENNA DUFFY

Jackson County’s Mikenna Duffy (center) tries to fight through East Jackson’s Destiny Rakestraw (left) and Kenzie Whitehead (right) Tuesday (Jan. 28) in the Panthers’ 44-35 win over the Eagles.

After a weekend during which Jackson County managed just 48 points in two losses, any win would be welcome.

But the Panthers managed to earn a rivalry victory on senior night to get back on the winning track.

Jackson County beat East Jackson 44-35 Tuesday at home in region play as the regular season nears its end.

“It was very necessary,” Panther coach Julie McCutcheon said, “very necessary in order to get some momentum back … It’s been a rollercoaster with the momentum and off of the momentum. We just have not had rhythm offensively.”

McCutcheon, who remained unbeaten in her career against East Jackson, said the win was “what we needed to help us refocus” heading into the region tournament next week.

Ashlyn Thompson led the Panthers with 12 points.

McCutcheon said the win started with the team’s defensive effort.

“If we can get our feet moving and we can get momentum and energy, then it usually takes us in other places of the game,” she said. “That just hasn’t happened the past few games, but this is more what we’re used to.”

Antonia Pittman scored 11 points to lead East Jackson (10-14, 3-8 Region 8-AAA), which struggled to convert layups and free throws. The Eagles went 6-of-15 from the foul line.

Jackson County led 13-10 early in the second quarter run before the Panthers’ Mikenna Duffy hit a 3-pointer to spark a 9-1 run. The Panthers led 24-14 at the half.

East Jackson worked the deficit down to 30-25 late in the third quarter after a free throw from Yasmine Clark. But Sydney Hayes stopped the Eagles’ run by sinking a baseline jump shot with 19 seconds left in the quarter. That basket ignited a 10-3 run and pushed Jackson County’s lead back up to 10 points (38-28) with 2:28 left in the game. The Eagles came no closer than six points the rest of the way.

Jackson County’s senior night win was particularly meaningful for McCutcheon. This year’s 12th-graders were freshmen when she stepped down from the program in 2016-17. In her return as head coach this year, these seniors are finishing their careers with her.

“It makes it even more bittersweet that I got to come back and join them in their senior year,” McCutcheon said. “It’s definitely God’s plan, because it wasn’t really in a human plan … They have been awesome to be back with. They were kind of the group that I left behind that is still here. And now to pick back up with them, it’s been very bittersweet circling back around.”

Jackson County closes the regular season at Jefferson Friday (Jan. 31, 7 p.m.) while East Jackson hosts Monroe Area Friday at 6 p.m. in its final regular season game.

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