Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
WASHINGTON C.H. — Not so long ago, Miami Trace’s Gracee Stewart couldn’t play basketball.
The senior suffered a torn ACL last September during an early season workout, sidelining her for her entire junior season.
But after Wednesday’s performance against Chillicothe, it’s safe to say Stewart has officially closed that chapter. She’s back to doing what she does best, which is making opposing defenses pay for each and every mistake they make.
Stewart scored a game-high 18 points in the Panthers’ 48-41 victory over Chillicothe on Wednesday.
With each game that passes and each shot that falls, Stewart continues to gain confidence. That’s a welcome sign for Miami Trace.
“[This past] Saturday, I had a pretty rough game. So coming off of that, I needed to build up my confidence,” Stewart said. “I felt like tonight was definitely a confidence builder for me. We have a lot of people who can hit shots, any night. My team really supported me tonight.”
Stewart was especially good in the second half, helping the Panthers (6-4, 4-0 FAC) curb a late rally attempt. When she had the opportunity to knock down a 3, she did so, and she took advantage of her free throw chances.
“What made me the proudest [of Stewart] is the fact that she was 1-for-10 shooting on Saturday. But she’s grown up a lot. A couple of years ago, before her injury, that would’ve derailed her for two or three games,” Miami Trace coach Ben Ackley said. “Tonight, she saw the ball go in early and it made a big difference. She’s as good of a shooter as I’ve ever coached. Her playing well has been a key to us continuing to get better.”
Miami Trace’s schedule has been no joke, including non-league dates with Eastern Brown, Fairfield Union and North Adams. Wednesday provided the first opportunity for Ackley’s group to build a double-digit lead over a formidable opponent.
Chillicothe (2-4, 0-3 FAC) tried its best to upend the Panthers with a late surge, trimming a 16-point lead to just five at one point. But Ackley’s group remained calm and, eventually, put away a victory.
“I thought we did a good job of building a lead. We haven’t had a 16-point lead on a solid team like that this season,” Ackley said. “We had a couple of bad offensive possessions that led to turnovers. And we got a little lackadaisical on defense, didn’t communicate really well and just had some breakdowns. Chillicothe took advantage of it. They played extremely hard. But our kids showed some resiliency and did what they had to do. We just have to be more consistent.”
Gracey Ferguson started the night’s scoring with a 3 at the 7:25 mark in the first quarter before Stewart and Magarah Bloom added buckets to give the Panthers a 7-2 lead. Chillicothe’s Jacey Harding then hit a deep ball with 3:30 remaining, tying the game at 7-7, before MT’s Delaney Eakins followed suit on the other end, making it a 10-7 count.
Ferguson and Emma Pitstick scored before the quarter ended, putting the Panther ahead 14-9.
In the second, both offenses went into a lull. But the Panthers managed to extend their lead to 22-16 at halftime, thanks to Eakins, Stewart and Pitstick.
Stewart shined in the third, scoring at the 6:55 and 4:07 marks to make it a 29-17 lead. Later, Libby Aleshire connected from deep before Bloom added a pair of freebies, making it 34-21. Stewart then ended the quarter with a 3 and a lay-in to give MT a 39-23 advantage.
But the Cavaliers weren’t dead yet.
Emma Fromm nailed back-to-back triples to begin the fourth before Harding made it three consecutive 3’s for the Cavaliers with 5:38 left, quickly cutting the deficit to 39-32.
With 1:55 remaining, Harding scored again to make it a 44-39 game. But that was as close as Chillicothe would get to digging out of a created hole. Bloom and Stewart hit their free throw tries down the stretch and helped put a lid on the Panthers’ sixth win this season.
Eakins followed Stewart’s 18-point performance with eight points and three rebounds while Bloom added eight points. Pitstick had four points and three rebounds while Hillery Jacobs finished with five rebounds and four assists.
Harding added 18 points of her own for Chillicothe while Fromm ended with 11 points and three assists. Avery Erslan also helped out, tallying four points, three rebounds and a pair of assists.
Both teams are back in action on Saturday. The Cavaliers host Washington while Miami Trace pays a visit to McClain in a battle of top-tier FAC squads.
“We have about seven or eight people who can step up and be our leading scorer, which is nice to have,” Stewart said. “It means we don’t have to rely on one person to score every night. These next two days, we’re going to have to work on some of the mistakes we made tonight. We’ll have to come out and kind of punch [McClain] in the mouth first [on Saturday].”
Chillicothe: 9-7-7-18 — 41
Miami Trace: 14-8-17-9 — 48
Chillicothe: 14-32 FG, 7-13 FT, 6-11 3pt., 19 rebounds (Harding 6), 27 turnovers, 9 assists (Fromm 3). Scoring: Harding 18, Fromm 11, Erslan 4, Huggins 4, Barnes 4.
Miami Trace: 16-37 FG, 12-16 FT, 4-7 3pt., 19 rebounds (Jacobs 5), 21 turnovers, 12 assists (Jacobs 4). Scoring: Stewart 18, Bloom 8, Eakins 8, Ferguson 5, Pitstick 4, Aleshire 3, Jacobs 2.