COLUMBUS (AP) — As much as Canton McKinley’s outstanding sophomore guard Kierstan Bell credits her teammates for her success, there are times when they rely on her to do something special.
Such was the case March 2 when Bell, still feeling the effects of strep throat, scored the Bulldogs’ final 14 points to rally them from an eight-point, fourth-quarter deficit in a Division I district final against Stow-Munroe Falls.
She capped the comeback by hitting a 3-pointer with three seconds left for a 37-36 victory to finish with 24 points.
“It was great. I can’t believe the team trusted me with the shot,” she said Tuesday. “It was either it goes in, or we lose.”
That performance exemplified why Bell, a 6-foot-1 guard, was voted by a media panel as the first non-senior or non-junior to win The Associated Press’ Ohio Ms. Basketball honor in the 30 years of the award.
“We are so humbled and blessed by this,” McKinley coach Pamela Davis said. “The people in the Canton community are ecstatic.”
They’ve been able to watch the progress of not only the best player in Ohio but one of the top prospects in the nation. ESPN ranks Bell as the second-best guard and No. 8 overall in the class of 2019.
Bell averaged 25.9 points and 8.9 rebounds per game in the regular season. She’s averaging nearly 25 points in the postseason and had 22 when McKinley defeated Solon 51-49 in the regional final.
The Bulldogs (23-5) play Cincinnati Mount Notre Dame (24-4) in the state semifinals on Friday at Value City Arena.
Bell was in seventh grade when Davis first heard of her.
“She had the ‘it’ factor,” Davis said. “She passed what we call the eye test. Even though she was young, she had great court vision. She could score it at the hoop, a very excitable type of ball player and then she’s really taken off and matured.”
Davis has seen opposing coaches throw all types of defense at Bell the past two seasons.
“Last year it frustrated her a little bit as a freshman,” the coach said. “She really committed herself to the conditioning this year. If you compare her to last year she’s stronger, she’s faster. She’s dropped some weight. Her core strength is good. With all that comes the emotional strength that she has.”
Bell said the more other teams concentrate on her; the better it is for McKinley. Chamera Young averages 10 points and Destinee Lee was an all-district selection,
“They really do focus on me a lot,” Bell said. “We have a lot of good players on this team. I don’t know why they think I’m the whole team.”
If all goes well the next two seasons, she could become the first three-time Ms. Basketball. There have been four two-time recipients, the most recent being McKinley’s Ameryst Alston in 2011 and 2012. She went to Ohio State and was a three-time first team All-Big Ten.
Bell has 1,264 points — the first Stark County girl to surpass 1,000 in her sophomore season — and could break Alston’s county career mark of 2,032.
“Both have high quality basketball IQ. They know the game. They’re both very unselfish,” Davis said. “(Kierstan) might have a good shot but if she sees a teammate have a better or great shot, she’s like Ameryst, both of them won’t hesitate to get the ball to a teammate.
“Ameryst is more low-key, if you will. She wouldn’t know her stats until she saw the stat sheet. I’d call her a stat stuffer in a low maintenance kind of way. Kierstan is a little more energetic and emotional, especially when she’s winning. They’re both fantastic players.”
The other finalists for Ms. Basketball this year were Gabby Burris, Baltimore Liberty Union; Naz Hillmon, Gates Mill Gilmour Academy; Sammie Puisis, Mason; Jacy Sheldon, Dublin Coffman; Jiselle Thomas, Norwalk; and Angela Troyer, Berlin Hiland.