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GIRLS' 5TH REGION BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT: Finally, a different final (02/25)

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Reigning finalists Elizabethtown, Marion County land in same (bottom) bracket

By Nathaniel Bryan

GREENSBURG For the first time in five years, there will be a different championship game pairing in the Marion County Invitational, err, the Girls’ 5th Region Basketball Tournament.

At Sunday morning’s draw, the Elizabethtown Lady Panthers and the Marion County Lady Knights finally landed on the same side of the bracket. The two had been separated the past four years, allowing Elizabethtown to beat the Lady Knights for the 2009 title at Nelson County and for Marion County to beat Elizabethtown for the last three championships.

“They have no weaknesses,” Washington County coach Bernard Smalley said of Marion County. “I told (Marion County coach Trent Milby) that I’m going to spike their water before our game. Then maybe they’ll have a weakness.”

North Hardin coach Chris Corder echoed Smalley’s thoughts and said if a team other than Marion County is going to win the tournament, that team is going to have a lot of things fall its way.

“You’d have to have one of those nights where everything goes right for you and everything goes wrong for them. That’s how good they are,” Corder said. “But I’ll be honest with you and I’ve talked to other coaches about this – they’ll have some tougher games in this tournament than they will at the state tournament.

“Maybe that’s a positive, I don’t know,” he added. “But they’re talented and they’re a great group of kids.”

The field is pretty talented as a whole, as every team has a winning record and all but two teams have won at least 22 games.

“In this tournament, I don’t think there’s anybody that you can overlook. If you look at their records, there’s a lot of good teams in our region and it’s going to be a good tournament,” said veteran Nelson County coach Kelly Wood. “But if you threw Marion out, we’d have a great tournament.”

During last week’s district tournament finals, Elizabethtown notched a 52-46 win over the North Hardin Lady Trojans in the 17th District, the LaRue County Lady Hawks rolled after halftime to a 61-40 victory over the Caverna Lady Colonels in the 18th District, the Nelson County Lady Cardinals scored the game’s first nine points in a 57-35 win over the Washington County Commanderettes in the 19th District and Marion County eased to a 72-41 decision over the Adair County Lady Indians in the 20th District.

“If you took Marion County out of this thing, you’ve got a heckuva tournament,” said veteran Elizabethtown coach Tim Mudd. “But obviously they’re the favorite. And you’ve got to play them at some point if you’re going to win it. So it doesn’t really matter when you play them.”

North Hardin (24-7) opens the tournament when it plays Nelson County (26-5) in Wednesday’s 6 p.m. quarterfinal. The Lady Trojans North Hardin knocked off Nelson County, 69-58 on Jan. 14 in Radcliff behind 24 points and nine rebounds from senior forward Chanel Roberts.

“Nelson’s really good and we were fortunate to beat them at our place earlier in the year. They’re big, they’ve got good shooters and they’ve got a young point guard who’s playing with a lot of confidence right now,” Corder said. “It will be a good matchup. I like having the early game and I like where we’re at.”

LaRue County (25-5) meets Adair County (24-8) in the 8 p.m. quarterfinal. Adair County stunned the host Lady Hawks, 52-43 on Feb. 2 as All-Region senior guard Mercedes Cox hit three 3-pointers en route to a team-high 24 points.

“It’s weird, but it’s the parity of this region,” LaRue County coach Travis Wootton said of winning his district but drawing a runner-up which beat his team. “When you’ve got six teams in this thing – seven if you could count John Hardin – with 20-plus wins, it’s not like there were very many easy draws there.”

Wednesday’s winners will meet in Sunday’s 2 p.m. top-bracket semifinal. One of the top-bracket teams will end a long region-final drought. North Hardin is looking for its first title-game appearance since 2008 and Nelson County hasn’t been in one since 2005. Adair County’s last final appearance was 1992, while LaRue County has never reached the title game.

“All four teams could do it or could be there,” Wootton said of advancing to the final. “We’ve got a fighting chance and we want to be that team obviously.”

Elizabethtown (22-7) meets Caverna (15-14) in Thursday’s 6 p.m. quarterfinal.

“Oh, I love it and I’m glad we got that draw,” said Caverna coach Cornelius Faulkner. “I was hoping we’d get them instead of Marion County.”

Elizabethtown has beaten Caverna by double digits in each of the teams’ last five meetings, but they haven’t faced off since Jan. 18, 2007.

“We’ll get some film on them and prepare from there,” Mudd said of drawing an unfamiliar team. “Honestly, I know zero. Haven’t seen them.”

Marion County (32-0) – the state’s only unbeaten team – takes on Washington County (16-13) in Thursday’s 8 p.m. quarterfinal.

“Well … somebody’s gotta face them, and of course, they have an awesome team,” Smalley said. “I still say they’ll finish 39-0. I told our kids, ‘What do you have to lose?’ We just need to come over here and play.”

Marion County has won its last 14 meetings with Washington County, including a 70-19 road win Feb. 2 and a 72-17 home win Jan. 5 this season. This is Marion County’s first postseason game with Washington County since the Commanderettes won, 43-33 in the 2003 region tournament quarterfinals at North Hardin.

“We’ll be ready to go Thursday night and just take it one game at a time,” Milby said. “We’re going to take everybody’s best shot, so we have to be ready each and every night.”

Thursday’s winners meet in Sunday’s 6 p.m. bottom-bracket semifinal. The gym will be cleared between semifinal games.

The final is 7:30 p.m. March 5. The 5th Region champion plays the 4th Region winner (Allen County-Scottsville, Bowling Green, Franklin-Simpson, Glasgow, Metcalfe County, Russell County, Todd County Central or Warren Central) at 1 p.m. March 13 in the first round of the Houchens Industries/KHSAA Girls’ Sweet Sixteen Basketball Tournament at E.A. Diddle Arena on Western Kentucky University’s campus in Bowling Green.

Nathaniel Bryan can be reached at (270) 505-1758 or nbryan@thenewsenterprise.com.