Blue Jays press on in rout of McDonald

Tribune Chronicle / Joe Simon Jackson-Milton’s Kaitlyn Totani, left, guards McDonald’s Britney Smith during their game Thursday at McDonald. Jackson-Milton won, 48-27.

McDONALD — There’s no hiding the gameplan of Jackson-Milton’s girls basketball team, and that’s OK because the Blue Jays aren’t trying to fool anyone.

From start to finish, Jackson-Milton is going to use a press defense. Five girls with speed and athleticism are going to hound whoever has the ball from the time of the inbounds pass until the play is over. The ploy is a bit of a risk because if a team can break the press, there are often open shots and lay-ups.

Those looks don’t come often against the Blue Jays.

There certainly weren’t many Thursday, when Jackson-Milton earned a share of the conference title, along with a major individual milestone, with a 48-27 victory over McDonald.

The Blue Jays (15-3, 8-0 Inter Tri-County League, Blue Tier) forced 24 turnovers and dominated the second half to beat McDonald (12-4, 6-2) for the second time this season.

Tribune Chronicle / Joe Simon McDonald’s Hannah Donkers (30) dribbles past Jackson-Milton’s Haley Lengyel during the third quarter of the Blue Jays’ 48-27 victory at McDonald High School.

“That’s been our bread and butter for the last few years — playing good defense,” Jackson-Milton coach Pat Keney said. “We try to take people out of their offense.”

The plan worked well against the taller Blue Devils, who had some success filtering the ball to the low post early on (trailing by seven at halftime) but struggled throughout the game with turnovers and scoring. A big part of those issues was the speed of Jackson-Milton, which is led by a pair of twin sisters who have now each scored 1,000 career points.

Kaitlyn Totani scored her 1,000th Jan. 9 against Sebring, and her slightly younger sister Ashley, a senior, followed suit against McDonald. She scored a team-high 20, but her 18th point, which came with 3:44 left in the fourth quarter, signified the landmark moment. Ashley scored the first 11 points of the quarter to put the game out of reach.

“It felt really good — the pressure was off my shoulders,” Ashley said of scoring 1,000. “It’s always been a goal. When we were younger, Kaitlyn and I made a goal with my dad. This was one of the goals that I wanted to do by the end of my high school career. Come this season, I realized I was in (reach) of it, so it’s exciting. It’s a great accomplishment.”

It came at the expense of the Blue Devils, who have played well all year but can’t seem to dethrone the returning district champions. McDonald coach Amy Dolask said the combination of Jackson-Milton’s athleticism and suffocating defense wore out a team that generally plays just six players.

“We definitely got tired,” said the former McDonald star, who said the gameplan was tough to execute due to the fatigue. “We try to get the ball into the post, and in the first half we did a pretty nice job. We got it in there a few times, and when we did, we got good looks. Some of them fell, some of them didn’t, and we got fouled when we got the ball inside. We just didn’t knock down our free throws. But yeah, we try to use that to our advantage.”

McDonald trailed 10-9 after the first quarter and would have only been down four at the half if not for Michaelina Terranova hitting a 3-pointer at the buzzer. Terranova, a junior, scored 17 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and added five assists. She played a big role in the Blue Jays outscoring McDonald 27-13 in the second half.

“I’ll have another one next year score 1,000,” Keney said of Terranova. “She’s one of the better athletes at Jackson-Milton. She goes to state every year in track and cross country, and I’m honored for her to play basketball for me. I’ve known her since she was just a little (girl).”

McDonald will probably be happy when all three are grown up and graduated.