Jackson's Kaylen Knepp pulls up for a jumper against Perryville during the first half Wednesday in Perryville.
But Jackson coach Sheila Haertling did not hesitate to insert McNeely into the game when Perryville started to use a full-court pressure defense in the fourth quarter of a tight ballgame Wednesday.
"Whitney, she can definitely play the game," Haertling said. "She's very knowledgeable about the game and she's a good ball handler and makes good decisions. So when it's close, we have to have her in to help us get the ball up the floor."
McNeely helped Jackson overcome the Pirates' pesky defensive pressure with some strong ball handling while also converting 4 of 4 free throws and making a crucial save on a ball that was headed out of bounds late in the fourth as Jackson prevailed 51-49 on the road.
"Lately I've been sick, and it's just really hard coming back," McNeely said. "It's hard to play because I am not as fast as I was. ... I am three months ahead of schedule, so I am doing pretty good."
Jackson's Ashten Howard fouls Perryville's Natalie Bauwens during the first half Wednesday night in Perryville.
"We got the young girls mixed in and had a lot of fire in there," Knepp said about the third quarter. "With them going after it, we played strong and did a good job."
Jackson (6-6) didn't go to the free-throw line at all in the first three quarters, but converted 7 of 8 free-throw attempts in the fourth.
"Free throws are always a big thing," McNeely said. "Coach has got us shooting 500 a week. And if we don't, she gets mad at us. ... I prayed a lot when I was shooting them."
Before entering for the crucial stretch in the fourth quarter, McNeely had played only about a minute in the second quarter.
"Playing time doesn't bother me as long as everybody else is getting the job done, that's fine with me," McNeely said. "Coach will play me most of the games. ... In games that I'm sore in, she will play me a little less and that was [what happened] today. I played the other night almost the whole game, so I am doing pretty good so far."
Knepp scored her team's first 10 points, including hitting two 3-pointers in the opening period.
Knepp has had an increased scoring role this season. She worked on her offense this past offseason because her coach told her she needed to improve in that area to earn more playing time.
"I would give the team the credit," Knepp said about her sharp shooting to begin the game. "Everybody moves well without the ball. ... They created it for me in the first place. I was feeling it, so I was going to shoot them. I wanted to get a run in the beginning of the game because we needed that."
Perryville did not let Jackson score for the first 5 minutes, 42 seconds of the second quarter. And during that stretch, the Pirates built a 22-16 lead. They led by as many as 10 points in the second period.
But Jackson's Dru Haertling netted two 3-pointers in the final 16 seconds of the second quarter, including one at the buzzer to bring the score to 30-24.
"Unfortunately we didn't match up very good with the Haertling girl who came in there," Perryville coach Vicki Lohmann said. "I knew she could hit the 3, and that was the purpose of her coming in there. We had a mismatch on our guards who would cover her and that really killed us."
Perryville (6-6) pulled ahead 32-24 early in the fourth quarter. But Jackson went on a 15-2 run to lead 39-34 with 2:19 remaining in the third quarter.
Perryville did a decent job with its defensive pressure and created some turnovers that resulted in baskets to tie the score 44-44 with 3:52 remaining.
Ava Johnson, who led Perryville with 17 points, netted a 3-pointer to bring the score to 48-47 with 1:09 left after Jackson had pulled ahead.
But McNeely hit two free throws with 27 seconds left, and Knepp made 1 of 2 with 9 seconds left to put Jackson ahead 51-47 to seal the win.
"[McNeely] came out and played some solid minutes," Lohmann said. "I knew she was a threat, too. We had a little trouble matching up when they put four guards into the game. We have some big girls who were not so mobile to go out and get them. But I think it was balanced and I think it was a good game overall."
@z_agate_no tab_no indnt_bld ld:JACKSON (51) -- Ashten Howard 2, Cassandra Bollinger 10, Kaylen Knepp 19, Whitney McNeely 4, Landon Wachter 4, Kylie Seyer 4, Dru Haertling 6. Connor King 2. FG 19, FT 7-8, F 16. (3-pointers: Knepp 4, Haertling 2.)
PERRYVILLE (49) -- Alicia Kueker 9, Ava Johnson 17, Emily Hanquist 11, Natalie Bauwens 6, Samantha Amberger 6. FG 20, FT 5-8, F 13. (3-pointers: Kueker 1, Johnson 3)