Kechelle Figueroa and Rakell Spencer have been going toe-to-toe on the basketball court ever since they were little kids.
The two junior sensations squared off one more time at Cabrini on Thursday night, but Figueroa made the plays in the end to help Warren Easton (20-1) defeat Cabrini 53-51.
“I can remember there was a time I had to baby-sit both of them,” Easton coach Darius Mimms said. “I told them (Rakell) is a formidable opponent. If you wake up a sleeping giant, you’ve got something to deal with on your hands.
“But, Kechelle is just a natural-born winner, she’s built for moments like this.”
Figueroa, who was forced to miss Easton’s first loss of the year in last week’s championship of the Sugar Bowl National Prep Classic because of an ankle injury, finished with 22 points, two rebounds and two steals, despite sitting out a large chunk of the second half because of foul trouble.
Even though she was forced to sit for such a long period, Figueroa still came up with clutch plays for her team down the stretch. Her setback jumper with under a minute left gave the Eagles a 52-51 lead, and she also poked away a steal from Spencer with under 20 seconds left to foil a potential final-second comeback attempt by the Crescents (17-4).
“Only thing that was going through my head is that we need to win the game,” said Figueroa. “I just needed to play better defense than I was playing and I knew my teammates would come through for me.”
After trailing by double digits for much of the game, Cabrini got back in the game with a strong third quarter run, powered by Spencer. The Cabrini guard scored nine of her team’s 11 points in the quarter as they clawed their way back.
Figueroa got her fourth foul early in the third, and the Crescents raised their level of play as soon as Easton’s potent scoring threat exited the game. With Figueroa on the bench, Cabrini went on a 15-3 run that extended from the third and into the fourth, ending with two free throws by Kelsey Pinera that tied the score at 44.
Spencer finished with 23 points, 19 rebounds and five blocks. Pineda added 13 points on 5-of-11 shooting from the field.
“They got us out of what we were doing, because we got called for five or six offensive fouls,” Mimms said. “They played us aggressive, and the referees kind of got in our head. I’m just glad we pulled this one out.”
Figueroa ensured that her impact would be felt from the opening tip, nailing a 3-pointer on the first possession, which contributed to her 10-point first quarter. Her personal 7-0 run midway through the quarter extended the Easton lead to 15-7 and assisted the Eagles to a 20-11 lead by the end of the period.
“I just wanted to run our sets and take open shots if they gave them to me,” Figueroa said. “I got a few looks early and I just got into a rhythm after that.”