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GREENSBURG— The Elizabethtown Lady Panthers didn’t feel pressure to beat top-ranked Marion County on Sunday evening. What the Lady Panthers did feel, however, was the vaunted defense of the undefeated Lady Knights once the three-time defending 5th Region champions turned up the heat.
Facing their first halftime deficit of the season to a region foe, the Lady Knights turned a three-point hole early in the third quarter into another rout as they pulled away from the Lady Panthers, 65-43 in the Girls’ 5th Region Basketball Tournament’s late semifinal at Green County High School.
“That was real tough,” said Elizabethtown sophomore guard Livie Bowling. “They kept pressuring us and we just couldn’t handle it. Well, I guess we handled their pressure, but we couldn’t handle all the trapping they were throwing at us.”
Up 26-25 at halftime, Elizabethtown took its largest and final lead at 28-25 with 7:28 left in the third quarter as senior guard Anna Bowling found freshman forward Erin Boley for a basket in the lane.
“We showed we can play with that team,” said Elizabethtown freshman reserve guard Rachel Warden. “But they are so good in so many aspects of the game. I have so much respect for them. … They’re a hard team to play against.”
The night was about to get even harder for the Lady Panthers.
Marion County tied the score on its next possession and never looked back. An old-fashioned three-point play by senior forward and Norfolk State signee Logan Powell ignited a 14-0 run for the Lady Knights, who have won their last 41 games against region foes. Elizabethtown turned it over seven times in eight possessions during Marion County’s surge.
“We kind of lost focus there for a little bit,” said Warden, whose backcourt was credited with 19 of the team’s 22 turnovers. “We stuck with the game plan well in the first half. But in the second half, we started rushing and tried to make passes that just weren’t there.”
Boley, who scored a team-high 14 points and grabbed six rebounds, hit a pull-up jumper with 1:28 left in the third quarter to get Elizabethtown’s deficit back to 10. However, Marion County senior point guard Makayla Epps had six points and one of her game-high eight assists during a 9-0 run spanning the end of the third quarter and start of the fourth quarter to extend her team’s advantage to 49-30 with 7:03 left in the game.
Sophomore center Reauna Cleaver scored off a pass from Bowling with 6:03 left in the game to stop the run, but Epps quickly got the Lady Knights reignited. After being held without a field goal the first 18 minutes, Epps fueled a 12-3 run with seven points and an assist.
“Makayla kept her poise,” veteran Marion County coach Trent Milby said of his McDonald’s All-American and Kentucky Miss Basketball finalist. “In the second half, she came out aggressive, got her team involved with good passes and took the shots she was supposed to take. Plus, she continued to play great defense on Boley.”
Boley and Cleaver earned All-Tournament Team honors, but Marion County made Elizabethtown’s interior duo a non-factor in the second half. Boley and Cleaver combined for 18 points in the first half, but just eight points after the break.
Elizabethtown averaged one turnover for every point, and more than one turnover per minute, after halftime. Marion County sat back in a zone the first half before switching to a full-court, man-to-man trapping defense.
“’We told them at halftime that there were 16 minutes left and we were going to have to play defense for all of them if we were going to win this game,” said Milby, the Naismith Award National Coach of the Year. “In the second half, our intensity was there defensively. We contested every shot and got in the passing lanes and it led to some easy baskets.”
The statistics don’t lie. Marion County shot 61.5 percent from the field after making just 8-of-23 in the first half, when it missed its first three shots overall and misfired on eight 3-pointers in the first 7 minutes.
Elizabethtown rallied from an eight-point deficit in the first half to take its second lead at 25-23. When his team fell behind in the second half, however, veteran Elizabethtown coach Tim Mudd said his young team didn’t show the same patience as it did when it trailed in the first half.
“I thought we did an excellent job in the first half with the tempo and it was exactly where we wanted it,” Mudd said. “But when you get down eight or 10 in the second half, there can still be plenty of time. But if I was a 14- or 15-year-old girl, I would probably be thinking we need to score quickly, too. At that point, we lost the tempo game and got in a track meet with them.
“The eight points would turn into 16,” Mudd added. “Then it’s 20. Then you forget about the tempo game.”
The win sends Marion County (34-0) into Tuesday night’s final at 7:30 against LaRue County (27-5), which advanced earlier Sunday by rallying past Nelson County.
The victory allowed Marion County to become just the second school to advance to five straight region finals. Marion County was tied with itself (1980-83) and Hart County (1999-2002) as programs with four consecutive region finals appearances.
Elizabethtown owns the girls’ region record with seven consecutive region finals appearances from 2006-12.
“I couldn’t be any prouder of my kids,” Mudd said. “It’s been very enjoyable all year. With what we had, the girls did a great job.”
MARIONCOUNTY 65, ELIZABETHTOWN 43
MarionCounty 15 1020 20—65
Elizabethtown 11 15 4 13—43
Team FG FT R TP
MarionCounty 24-49 13-22 28 65
Elizabethtown 16-34 9-10 21 43
Player FG FT R TP
Epps 8-14 3-5 4 21
Tonge 3-7 2-2 7 9
Goodin-Rogers 6-13 3-4 8 15
Powell 1-6 4-5 4 6
Calhoun 4-5 1-1 4 9
Howard 1-3 0-3 0 3
Rakes 0-0 0-2 0 0
Taylor 1-1 0-0 1 2
Player FG FT R TP
L. Bowling 0-1 0-0 1 0
Huff 2-4 0-0 2 4
A. Bowling 2-5 0-0 0 4
Boley 4-7 6-6 6 14
Cleaver 5-8 2-3 7 12
Downs 0-1 0-0 0 0
Warden 1-4 0-0 3 3
Mudd 0-1 0-0 0 0
Powell 2-3 1-1 1 6
MARION COUNTY (4-17): Makayla Epps 2-6, Haeli Howard 1-3, Kyvin Goodin-Rogers 0-3, Patrice Tonge 1-2, Logan Powell 0-2, Alexus Calhoun 0-1.
ELIZABETHTOWN (2-8): Rachel Warden 1-2, Darien Huff 0-2, Alexis Powell 1-1, Anna Bowling 0-1, Reauna Cleaver 0-1, Kinsey Mudd 0-1.
MARION COUNTY (15): Makayla Epps 8, Patrice Tonge 5, Logan Powell 2.
ELIZABETHTOWN (11): Anna Bowling 4, Livie Bowling 4, Erin Boley 2, Rachel Warden 1.