GIRLS' 17TH DISTRICT BASKETBALL: E'town tops Central Hardin, returns to finals (02/26)

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By Greg Crews



By GREG CREWS gcrews@thenewsenterprise.com RADCLIFF — Whether the game was fast or slow, the Elizabethtown Lady Panthers were in control. Showing patience early, the second-seeded Lady Panthers methodically built a 14-point lead in the first half before turning on the afterburners in the second and leaving the third-seeded Central Hardin Lady Bruins in their wake for a 54-31 win in Wednesday’s late semifinal of the Girls’ 17th District Tournament. Second-ranked Elizabethtown (26-2) advances to play No. 5 North Hardin (24-4) at 7 p.m. in Friday’s final. It marks the third straight year the two have played for the district title, while Elizabethtown is making its fourth consecutive trip to the final. “This is a real big relief to win this one. This is the one that really matters,” said Elizabethtown senior Alex Jones, whose team earned a berth to the 5th Region Tournament. “I thought we played pretty well tonight, considering the atmosphere and everything.” After a slow first half, scoring just two points as the Lady Panthers built a 22-8 lead, Jones took over in the second and finished with 18 points, 12 rebounds and five assists. “She had an unbelievable game,” Elizabethtown coach Tim Mudd said. “She did a great job of keeping (Central Hardin’s Kaitie) Fritts off the block. I thought defensively she played as well as she did offensively.” The game began as a chess match between two veteran coaches. Both teams threw an array of seldom-used defenses at each other, while both did whatever they could to keep the ball out of the post. The result was an early stalemate as 3 minutes ticked off the clock before Elizabethtown senior guard Dorian Downs broke the ice with a 3-pointer from the right corner. By the end of the first quarter, Elizabethtown led 9-5. “Coach (Terry) Buckles said you can’t do the same thing and expect a different result, so we had to do something different than we did the first two times we played them,” said Fritts, who capped her memorable season with three points and five rebounds. “(We did) what we wanted to do. We limited their possessions. That was the plan. We just couldn’t make shots.” The Lady Bruins struggled with their shooting all game, hitting just 18 percent of their field goal attempts in the first half and 28 percent for the game. “We didn’t shoot the ball well at all and we hoped to limit their second-chance points, but they were able to get some of those on us,” Buckles said. “They’re just a great basketball team and it’s hard to find a weakness.” The game began to slip away from Central Hardin in the second quarter as Downs hit two more 3-pointers as the Lady Panthers stretched their lead to 22-8 by halftime. Senior guard Elena Hitch, who had seven points, scored the opening basket of the second half for the Lady Bruins as she banked in a runner. Elizabethtown responded with a 13-0 run over the next 4 minutes as it built a 35-10 lead to all but shut the door on Central Hardin’s 19-9 season, which surpassed nearly every expectation. “I think we had a pretty awesome season,” Fritts said with tears in her eyes. “I wish we could have had a 20-win regular season, but other than that, I’m pretty happy with what we did.” Senior wing Alanna Stanton paced the Lady Bruins with 11 points despite missing much of the second half in foul trouble. Sophomore point guard Natalie Greenwell added 10 points and four steals for Elizabethtown, while Downs scored all nine of her points in the first half and sophomore Adelaide Luckett added eight points and four rebounds. The 31 points was the fewest scored by Central Hardin in more than six years. “We changed up our defense and we threw something new at them,” Jones said. “It was new to us, too, so I think we handled that well and our defense did a good job tonight.” Greg Crews can be reached at 505-1754