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The LaRue County Lady Hawks understand they’re on the cusp of history. They also understand that looking forward to the future could cause them problems in the present.
That’s why the 18th District Tournament champions are solely focused on the task at hand today, a 2 p.m. date with the 19th District champion Nelson County Lady Cardinals in the opening semifinal of the Girls’ 5th Region Basketball Tournament at Green County High School in Greensburg.
LaRue County (26-5) has already beaten the Lady Cardinals (27-5) once this year, earning a 58-55 win Feb. 5 in Bardstown. The win started the eight-game winning streak the Lady Hawks find themselves currently riding.
Veteran LaRue County coach Travis Wootton said the teams’ first meeting won’t mean much today, especially with how poorly each team played that night.
In the first meeting, LaRue County shot just 55.9 percent from the foul line, 40.4 percent from the field and 14.3 percent from the 3-point arc. The Lady Hawks did get a game-high 23 points and eight rebounds from sophomore guard Alexis Brewer and 16 points and a game-high 13 rebounds from junior wing Ivy Brown.
Nelson County was 8-of-10 from the foul line, but made just 35.6 percent from the field and 29.4 percent from the arc. Senior center Cierra Drake paced the Lady Cardinals with a team-high 16 points and seven rebounds, while sophomore guard Caitlin Hagan added 11 points and two rebounds and senior guard A.J. Lewis just missed a double-double (10 points, team-high nine rebounds)
“I didn’t think either team played real well,” Wootton said shortly after Saturday afternoon’s practice wrapped up. “I don’t know what it was, but both teams really weren’t sharp. Hopefully we’ll be a little sharper and I know they will be.”
In the second half, both teams were sharp Wednesday night in their quarterfinals. In their 60-57 win over the 20th District runner-up Adair County Lady Indians, the Lady Hawks built their largest lead of the game – 54-44 – in the final 4 minutes. And Nelson County, which trailed by 12 points early in the second quarter, held North Hardin to just one point in the final 4:13 as the Lady Cardinals rallied by the 17th District runner-ups, 62-56.
“I didn’t watch much of it because I was on the bus talking to the girls, but both Coach (Tommy) Adams and Coach (Roy) Walker were there and watched the whole game,” Wootton said of his veteran assistants, who told him the Lady Hawks will have their hands full today. “Nelson’s a really good team and we’ll have to play really well to beat them.”
That “really good team” is led by a really good center in Drake, who had 10 points, a game-high 11 rebounds and a game-best seven blocks against North Hardin. She verbally committed to NCAA Division-I Eastern Kentucky last week.
“She definitely brings many dimensions to the floor,” Wootton said of Drake. “She’s a legit 6-3 – she’s probably a little taller than that – and she’s so strong. She’s going to present a matchup problem.”
While Drake averages 14 points and 6.1 rebounds per game, four other Lady Cardinals average more than six points per game – Lewis (10.3 points, 5.1 rebounds per game), junior forward Brianna Harman (7.9, team-high 6.4), Hagan (7.3, 2.4) and eighth-grade point guard Shyla Calbert (6.9, 2.3).
“She (Drake) has a good supporting cast to go with her,” Wootton said. “They go a good seven or eight deep. And all of them can shoot.”
If the Lady Hawks shoot well tonight, they could find themselves in the region final for the first time Tuesday night. But the Lady Cardinals are an eager bunch, too. They’ve been to a pair of finals in the last 11 years, but lost both times.
“We just have to go out and play. We’ve told them all along that we’ve got a goal of being in the region title game and now we’re one win away,” Wootton said. “But we have to go out and take it. It’s not going to be given to you.”
Nathaniel Bryancan be reached at (270) 505-1758 or firstname.lastname@example.org.