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LEWISPORT — On the bus ride from Brandenburg on Thursday night, Maya Luney was a nervous wreck.
Tasked with guarding one of the state’s best players in Hancock County star senior Beth Rates, the Meade County senior post wasn’t sure how the Lady Waves would execute the game plan drawn up by longtime coach Josh Hurt.
Luney wasn’t optimistic the Lady Waves would be able to stop Rates, who had scored 31 points against them earlier this season.
Luney had no reason to worry after all. Meade County executed Hurt’s plan to perfection, limiting Rates to two points as it topped Hancock County, 36-27 in the championship of the Girls’ 11th District Basketball Tournament.
“She’s so quick and has a stride probably as long as my wing span. Goodness gracious, it was a battle. It was really hard defending her,” Luney said. “Coach Hurt came up with an awesome game plan. We had a lot of help on defense, a lot of help from the weak side. Whoever was guarding the off-man or whoever was closest just came over and helped out. All the credit goes to Coach Hurt. We just had to execute it.
“We had to make sure we were rotating and covering the weak side,” she added. “Once we started communicating to each other, it worked. We didn’t think they were going to send anyone down to the block and that she was going to camp out on the wing, because that’s what she did last time. Once we figured out that they had figured out where the open spot really was, then we just had to talk and communicate and rotate a lot quicker. Once we got that down, it was all good.”
Things couldn’t have gone better for the top-seeded Lady Waves (21-9), who constantly harrased Rates into taking contested shots. Meade County knew what Rates was going to do before she did it.
Rates missed her first four shots and turned the ball over three times in the first quarter. She knocked the ball out of bounds on the opening tip and even dribbled the ball off her foot. Meade County knew Rates was rattled, and the Lady Waves kept the intensity up the entire game.
They held Rates to 1-of-9 from the field.
“They did exactly what we told you we were going to do,” Hurt said. “We gave up a couple layups to Tori Kirk and we gave up a couple of 3s out of it, but by and large, to hold her to two is fantastic. Every shot was contested; no shot was easy and we didn’t give her any gimmies. We made her turn to her left, and when she turned to her right, people were right there. We executed the game plan as best we could.”
Anytime Hancock County (17-11) took a shot, two players boxed Rates out. She still grabbed a team-best nine rebounds, but Luney, sophomore guard Morgan Turner and senior forward Megan Aebersold did a solid job keeping Rates in check.
Turner, who scored 12 points, said the Lady Waves scouted Hancock County’s semifinal game against Breckinridge County on Monday — and it helped. They saw the Lady Tigers double-team Rates at times in that game, but Turner said her team wanted to do that for the entire game.
“We did a tremendous job,” Turner said. “We scouted during the Hancock-Breck game and we saw where they double-teamed her and how it affected her. They came out of that plan, but we did it the entire game. Me and Maya and Megan did a good job of getting in her face and boxing her out. That’s what won us the game.”
Hurt said his team bought into the philosophy that defense wins championships. For a team that’s built around the offensive prowress of Turner and junior guard Raley Johnson, Hurt said that was a big step for the Lady Waves to take.
“When we needed to step up, we stepped up. And we did it on the right end,” Hurt said. “It’s really been a transformation for our kids. Growing up, every one of these kids have been scorers; they’ve all been the best scorers and best shooters in their age group. Getting them to guard has been the job. I was so proud of what they did defensively. Holding a team to two points over an 8-minute stretch is what wins you championships.”
As if their execution against Rates wasn’t enough, Meade County held the Lady Hornets to two points in the fourth quarter.
“To win a game like this, I never thought I would see it,” Hurt said. “But we held them to one shot and we made our free throws down the stretch, and that brought home a victory.”
Both teams move on to next week’s 3rd Region Tournament, which starts Wednesday at the Owensboro Sportscenter. The draw for the tournament is Saturday afternoon in Owensboro.
Luney, who finished with five points and seven rebounds, was joined on the All-Tournament Team by Turner, Johnson and Lynch.
MEADE COUNTY 36, HANCOCK COUNTY 27
Hancock County 7 9 9 2—27
Meade County 14 4 7 11—36
Hancock County (17-11)
Mollie Bozarth 8, Brenna Basham 6, Brea Basham 4, Tori Kirk 4, Audry Hawkins 3, Beth Rates 2. FG: 9-28. FT: 4-8. 3-pointers: 5-10 (Brenna Basham 2-4, Bozarth 2-3, Hawkins 1-2, Brea Basham 0-1). Rebs: 19 (Rates 9). Assists: 8 (Rates 3, Hawkins 2). Steals: 6 (Hawkins 3, Rates 2).
Meade County (21-9)
Morgan Turner 12, Katelyn Cucino 6, Addi Lynch 5, Raley Johnson 5, Maya Luney 5, Kelsey Sutton 3. FG: 10-40. FT: 11-15. 3-pointers: 5-18 (Cucino 2-5, Johnson 1-5, Sutton 1-3, Turner 1-3, Lynch 0-2). Rebs: 26 (Turner 9, Luney 7). Assists: 5 (Lynch 4, Turner 1). Steals: 4 (Cucino 2, Lynch 1, Johnson 1).