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BARDSTOWN — Girls’ 5th Region coaches didn’t have trouble selecting a favorite in recent years with the Marion County Lady Knights’ dominance.
This year, though, it’s not as easy.
Heading into the Girls’ 5th Region Tournament, each coach might give a different response.
“It has to be LaRue County,” Elizabethtown coach Tim Mudd said. “They’re playing well. And Nelson County has a nice team. I haven’t seen them lately but they’re playing well.”
Two good picks, but not the only ones.
“The way E’town’s playing right now, they have to be the favorite,” LaRue County coach Travis Wootton said. “They’re going to be a tough out, so someone will have to rise to the occasion.”
Elizabethtown, LaRue County and Nelson County all have more than 20 wins, which has them in the crosshairs of the rest of the field.
“I’d say three teams — E’town, LaRue and Nelson — are above the rest right now,” Marion County coach Anthony Epps said. “I’d put us, North (Hardin) and Caverna in that next tier. It should be a fun tournament. There are a lot of good matchups.”
The tournament has a potential Elizabethtown-LaRue County match-up in the championship. The two region heavyweights landed on opposite sides of the bracket at Saturday morning’s draw at Nelson County High School.
“LaRue County and E’town are the best two teams,” Nelson County coach Kelly Wood said. “E’town is loaded. They’re No. 1 in the state for a reason. They’re better than when we played them (in December). LaRue County has two of the best players in the region and they’re playing well.”
Both have work to do before that game comes to fruition.
Elizabethtown (26-4) faces 20th District runner-up Adair County (18-11) at 8 p.m. Monday in the quarterfinals. The Lady Panthers, who won the 17th District for the ninth straight time Friday night, beat Adair County, 77-26 on Jan. 9.
“I think it’s beneficial seeing a team before,” Mudd said. “That’s why I try to schedule as many region opponents as I can. We played them after Christmas. The final score was not indicative of the game. They played well. It helps because we are familiar with them.”
This is the first time the Lady Panthers, who are shooting for their seventh region championship, have met Adair County in the region tournament since Elizabethtown’s 47-30 victory in 2010. The Lady Panthers are riding an 11-game winning streak and have won 17 of their last 18 with the lone loss a 65-58 setback to LaRue County.
The host Lady Cardinals (23-7) play 18th District runner-up Caverna (15-14) at 6:30 p.m. Monday. The teams didn’t play in the regular season. Nelson County, which has won six consecutive 19th District championships, head into the tournament with plenty of momentum, winning 13 of its last 15 games.
“Since Christmas, this team has been really consistent,” Wood said. “We’re young with only two seniors. We weren’t expecting the type of year we’ve had. Sitting at 23-7, I’m pleased with where we’re at right now.”
In the bottom of the bracket, 18th District champion LaRue County (22-6) meets 17th District runner-up North Hardin (19-11) at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday. The Lady Hawks, who have won eight straight, won at North Hardin, 70-64 on Dec. 17.
“I would definitely rather have played someone than going in blind,” Wootton said. “North has so much talent and they’re so athletic. It’s hard to match up with them. It’s never a good draw when you draw North.”
North Hardin coach Darryl Murray said LaRue County presents its own challenges, namely senior forward Ivy Brown and junior guard Alexis Brown.
“They have two Division-I players,” Murray said. “They are talented and well-coached. They are going to be a tough match-up. But everyone is a tough match-up this time of year. There are no cupcakes in the postseason.”
But the Lady Trojans, who last won the region in 2007, do have postseason experience as this is their eighth consecutive trip to the region tournament. Murray also likes the fact they are familiar with LaRue County.
“You know what to expect,” Murray said. “The girls like the unknown, but they might look forward to playing LaRue again. It was a pretty good one. It was a battle. It’s a tough draw, but you’ve got to play them all sooner or later.
The 20th District champion Lady Knights (15-14) take on 19th District runner-up Bethlehem (10-12) at 8 p.m. Tuesday in the final quarterfinal. The Lady Knights, who are seeking their fifth consecutive region championship and ninth overall, didn’t play Bethlehem in the regular season.
“I’m looking forward to playing someone different,” Epps said. “I like seeing teams I haven’t seen because they don’t know the things you’re going to do. I might feel different Tuesday night, but we’ll see how it goes.”
The semifinals are set for 6:30 and 8 p.m. Friday with the championship at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
Chuck Jones can be reached at 270-505-1759 or email@example.com.