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BARDSTOWN — Entering Sunday evening, the Elizabethtown Lady Panthers had breezed past their last 13 opponents.
But in facing the LaRue County Lady Hawks, the Lady Panthers were getting a rematch with the last team to beat them. It stood to reason it would be interesting to see how Elizabethtown dealt with adversity and a close game since it had been so long it had to deal with each.
That’s going to have to wait until at least Thursday, because none of that happened Sunday.
The second-ranked Lady Panthers never trailed and led by double digits for all but the opening 5:05 as they hammered the Lady Hawks, 73-56 in the Girls’ 5th Region Tournament final in front of a packed house at Nelson County’s Cardinal Gym.
Elizabethtown (29-4) moves on to play the 7th Region Tournament champion Louisville Sacred Heart Valkyries (27-7) at 7:30 p.m. Thursday in the first round of the state tournament at Western Kentucky University’s Diddle Arena in Bowling Green.
Sophomore forward Erin Boley poured in a team-high 25 points and grabbed a team-best eight rebounds as Elizabethtown won its seventh region title overall and sixth under Coach Tim Mudd.
Boley, who was selected as the tournament’s Most Valuable Player, won her first region title in the same gym her father, Scott, won his first when he starred at LaRue County.
“This is awesome and it’s such a great feeling,” Boley said. “I don’t think there’s anything better than that.”
Junior shooting guard Darien Huff buried the first of her game-high four 3-pointers off an assist from junior wing Livie Bowling on Elizabethtown’s second possession and the rout was on.
Huff finished with 17 points – scoring the team’s first seven – and knocked down 4-of-6 shots from the arc.
“Did I think I would come out like that? Not exactly,” she said. “After I made the first one, I was like, ‘OK, let’s keep doing this.’ And then they just kept falling and falling.”
Meanwhile LaRue County, which earned a 65-58 win over the Lady Panthers on Jan. 27 after beating them in the teams’ only meeting last season, kept falling further and further behind. The Lady Hawks didn’t make a field goal in the opening 7 minutes as they dug themselves a 16-2 hole.
An early deficit was nothing new to LaRue County, which overcame an 18-8 deficit to beat Elizabethtown. Last season, LaRue County trailed 6-0 and 10-4 and missed 14-of-17 shots to open the game before rallying for a 49-39 win.
There was no comeback this time as the balanced Lady Panthers cruised to their 14th straight victory by at least 13 points.
“In those other games, we let the other team who wanted it more come back and beat us,” said Elizabethtown sophomore point guard Rachel Warden. “This time, we didn’t let turnovers or missed shots affect us. We just kept playing.”
And kept pulling away.
Elizabethtown cruised into the break up 35-17, limiting LaRue County to 4-of-20 shooting in the first two periods and holding the Lady Hawks – who entered Sunday averaging 77 points in their first four postseason contests – without a field goal for the final 4:25 of the first half.
Huff had 14 points by halftime, just one point fewer than LaRue County’s tandem of senior wing Ivy Brown and junior guard Alexis Brewer had combined. Brown and Brewer combined for 73 points in the region quarterfinal against North Hardin and 48 points in the semifinals against Marion County.
Brewer finished with a game-high 26 points on 7-of-27 shooting, while Brown had 20 points and a game-high 15 rebounds before fouling out.
“Tim Mudd’s a great coach and he had them ready for us,” Brown said. “He knew who our two players were and they played around it.”
It was the final game in Brown’s career. The program’s all-time leading scorer and ranking in the top 10 in many other career categories, Brown could become the area’s first Miss Basketball when the award is presented next week in Lexington.
“I’m not really worried about that right now. The region championship was more important to me,” Brown said. “I’d much rather have a region title than Miss Basketball.”
Under Brown’s leadership, the Lady Hawks (24-7) came close to a region title in back-to-back seasons. Last year, the Lady Hawks fell to eventual state champion Marion County in LaRue County’s first berth in the title game.
“When I first took this job nine years ago, 99 percent of the people around me said, ‘You’re crazy. You’ll never win there,’” said LaRue County coach Travis Wootton, who came within one win of going to the Sweet 16 as a player and a coach. “I believed we could put together something here to be proud of. We’ve done a lot of good things and the girls worked their butts off to get us here.”
LaRue County outscored Elizabethtown in the second half, but never came closer than a pair of 14-point deficits. While LaRue County kept trying to lean on its dynamic duo – the rest of the team combined for 10 points after scoring just 11 against North Hardin – Elizabethtown kept hitting the Lady Hawks from all angles.
Following Huff’s first-quarter flurry, reserve freshman forward Taylor Thomas had six points and an assist for a 3-pointer in the second quarter, Boley scored seven points in a 44-second span in the third quarter and junior post Reauna Cleaver scored eight of her team’s first 10 points in the fourth quarter.
Cleaver, plagued by foul trouble most of the night, finished with 14 points and six rebounds. Thomas had five rebounds and 10 points.
“When I come in, I’m supposed to play hard and go to the rim strong and make it look like Erin and Sweets never left the floor,” Thomas said. “I just try to play my hardest whenever I go in, but I didn’t expect to have a game like that.”
The team’s lone senior did.
After coming out of the game, reserve guard Kinsey Mudd leapt into the arms of her coach/father. While she had been a witness to several championship teams before as a ball girl and manager to junior varsity and finally varsity player, this title was different.
And she noted this team is different.
“A lot of other teams have great players,” Mudd said. “But we have a full team. We have several players who we can count on, like Taylor, who had the game of her life.”
Nathaniel Bryancan be reached at 270-505-1758 or firstname.lastname@example.org
ELIZABETHTOWN73, LARUE COUNTY 56
LaRue County 7 10 20 19—56
Elizabethtown 18 17 19 19—73
Team FG FT R TP
LaRueCounty 19-54 17-25 34 56
Elizabethtown 25-49 18-27 36 73
Player FG FT R TP
Eastridge 1-1 0-0 2 2
Brewer 7-27 12-17 6 26
I. Brown 7-14 5-7 15 20
Evans 0-1 0-0 0 0
Yingling 3-4 0-0 3 6
Williams 0-3 0-0 2 0
P. Brown 1-4 0-1 2 2
Player FG FT R TP
Huff 6-10 1-4 2 17
Bowling 1-5 1-2 8 3
Warden 1-3 2-2 0 4
Boley 8-15 8-9 8 25
Cleaver 6-8 2-4 6 14
Mudd 0-3 0-0 2 0
Thomas 3-5 4-6 5 10
3-POINTERS: LARUE COUNTY (1-15): Alexis Brewer 0-6, Ivy Brown 1-4, Mallory Williams 0-3, Presley Brown 0-2. ELIZABETHTOWN (5-11): Darien Huff 4-6, Erin Boley 1-3, Kinsey Mudd 0-2. ASSISTS: LARUE COUNTY (3): Alexis Brewer 2, Ivy Brown 1. ELIZABETHTOWN (13): Livie Bowling 4, Erin Boley 2, Rachel Warden 2, Darien Huff 1, Kinsey Mudd 1, Taylor Thomas 1.
GIRLS’ 5TH REGION BASKETBALL ALL-TOURNAMENT TEAM
Elizabethtown: Erin Boley, Livie Bowling, Reauna Cleaver and Darien Huff.
LaRueCounty: Alexis Brewer, Ivy Brown and Alyson Yingling.
MarionCounty: Alexus Calhoun and Haeli Howard.
NelsonCounty: Shyla Calbert and Brianna Harman.
Bethlehem: McKenzie Hagan.
Caverna: Madison Faulkner and Cierra Waggoner.
North Hardin: Kiera Jones.
E’town State tickets
Girls’ Sweet 16 tickets for Elizabethtown’s first-round matchup against Louisville Sacred Heart go on sale today for students in the Charlie Rawlings Memorial Gymnasium lobby.
Tickets will go on sale for the general public at 1 p.m. Tuesday in the gym lobby. Tickets will remain on sale through Thursday.
Elizabethtown (29-4) plays Sacred Heart (27-7) at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Western Kentucky’s E.A. Diddle Arena.