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Remove the first 10 minutes Friday night and the John Hardin Lady Bulldogs gave the seven-time defending 17th District Tournament champion Elizabethtown Lady Panthers everything they wanted at the Dawg Pound in Radcliff.
But in that first 600 seconds, Reauna Cleaver and the Lady Panthers – again – had landed the equivalent of a first-round knockout.
A sophomore post, Cleaver powered her team’s game-opening 19-0 run and the Lady Panthers came within one win of clinching at least a share of the district’s regular-season title with a 69-47 win.
When Elizabethtown knocked off the Lady Bulldogs, 61-28 on Nov. 30, it entered the second quarter with a 22-5 lead.
This time, it was 17 points again – 19-2.
“We just wanted to come out and beat the crap out of them to be honest with you,” said sophomore guard Livie Bowling, who got Elizabethtown (14-4, 6-0 district) started off on the right foot by scoring off an assist from freshman forward Erin Boley before feeding older sister Anna for a 3-pointer. The Bowlings combined for 14 points, three rebounds and two assists.
The Lady Bulldogs (16-6, 4-3), who had to win to have any shot at the regular-season district title, were in no mood to have Boley beat them again.
Boley scored a game-high 15 points in the teams’ first meeting of the season.
She had a much rougher go in Round 2. Boley scored just nine points and matched John Hardin senior center Michelle Montgomery with a game-high 10 rebounds as she was constantly hounded by John Hardin junior Zacchea Small in the Lady Bulldogs’ 1-3 zone defense with a chaser.
Boley, who entered averaging 19.4 points and attempting almost 13 shots per game, took just five shots while being scouted by NCAA-Division I Purdue University assistant coach Nadine Morgan.
“I was going to rotate people on her, but Zacchea had her the whole game and did a phenomenal job on her,” said veteran John Hardin coach Bryan Todd. “She did a much better job on Boley than I thought she would.”
With Boley out of the mix, the Lady Panthers relied on their depth and versatility in forcing John Hardin to set a season worst for points allowed.
“We don’t rely on one person,” said Elizabethtown sophomore guard Darien Huff, who had a game-high five steals. “If this person is shooting well, we can get her the ball. Or if this person has a hot hand, we can get it to her. We’re going to distribute the ball.”
That hot hand belonged to Cleaver in the first 8 minutes and Huff in the next 8. Cleaver scored eight of her game-high 18 points in the opening barrage, while Huff scored six of her 11 points in the second quarter. With less than 2:20 left in the first half, Cleaver had as many points (14) as the Lady Bulldogs had as a team.
And then there were the reserves.
Playing without junior sharpshooter Kinsey Mudd (kidney stones), Elizabethtown’s bench dominated John Hardin’s in scoring, 17-2. In major spurts in the fourth quarter, Elizabethtown had just one starter on the floor – Huff or Livie Bowling – compared to four for the Lady Bulldogs. But the closest the Lady Bulldogs came in the final 8 minutes was 18 (five times, last at 63-45) after cutting a 21-point first-half deficit to 40-30 with 4:45 left in the third quarter.
“We have other kids stepping up and that’s what I’m liking about this team right now,” said veteran Elizabethtown coach Tim Mudd, whose program recorded its 48th straight win against area teams. “That’s the meaning of a team.”
John Hardin played Elizabethtown within a point over the final 23 minutes, but the Lady Bulldogs trailed 23-2 after the opening nine. Montgomery, who was held shotless the first 7 minutes, still managed to score a team-best 16. Small added 14 points and three rebounds.
“I was confident with the game plan going in, but it was a matter of relaxing and handling their pressure in the first quarter and just handling the pressure of the game,” said Todd, whose team has lost consecutive games for the first time this season. “But I don’t think we were scared. We just had some girls play timid.”
UP NEXT: Elizabethtown plays at LaRue County at 7 p.m. Monday. John Hardin hosts Breckinridge County at 8 p.m. Tuesday.
Nathaniel Bryancan be reached at (270) 505-1758 or email@example.com