Lady Purples fall to Elizabethtown in Girls’ Sweet Sixteen
HIGHLAND HEIGHTS – Bowling Green’s Cinderella run came to an end on Wednesday, as it fell 62-41 to Region 5 champion Elizabethtown in the opening round of the St. Elizabeth Healthcare/KHSAA Girls’ State Basketball Tournament at Northern Kentucky’s BB&T Arena.
The Lady Purples (20-13 overall), who upset South Warren in the Region 4 championship to earn their trip to the state tournament, battled from start to finish but couldn’t maintain the veteran Panthers’ team.
“It’s been fun,” Bowling Green coach Calvin Head said. “It has been fun to watch these young ladies just sell out and cash in their effort on a daily basis, especially going down the stretch. For us getting here – you saw how we had to get here. To see that effort and energy displayed on the biggest stages in the state of Kentucky, it’s been amazing.”
Bowling Green trailed just 10-7 after the opening quarter but was down 32-22 at halftime. It battled back in the third to get within eight entering the fourth but was outscored 16-3 in the final period to suffer the season-ending loss.
Senior Keely Morrow led the Lady Purples with 14 points and seven rebounds in her final high school game, while Taylor Ragland scored 11 points and Shalyn Whitson added nine. Bowling Green was forced into 17 turnovers and shot just 14-of-52 (26.9 percent) from the field.
“They really made it tough on us to score the basketball like they’ve been doing to everybody,” Head said. “They hold (teams) to below 40 (points per game) and I think we were right at 41. I’m really proud of our Lady Purple team for getting to this stage and really competing at a high level.”
Whitney Hay scored a game-high 20 points and grabbed nine rebounds to lead Elizabethtown, while Leikyn Walker finished with 11 and five. The Panthers shot 23-of-51 (45.1 percent) and scored 30 points in the paint.
With the Panthers’ win, they’ll know meet the George Rogers Clark-Harlan County winner at 1:30 p.m. EST Friday in the Sweet Sixteen quarterfinals.
“Fortunately, we were able to withstand them,” Elizabethtown coach Donnie Swiney said. “Defensively, I thought we were spectacular. We outrebounded them by five, and I thought that was a big key.”
The two sides played a sloppy opening quarter.
Six minutes into the game, there had been just nine combined points scored as Bowling Green was leading 5-4. At that point, the Lady Purples were shooting two-of-five from the field, while Elizabethtown had made just two of its eight shots.
An offensive rebound and putback by Tanisia Murphy with just four seconds remaining in the first quarter gave the Panthers a slim 10-7 lead at the end of one.
The offenses picked up in the ensuing period – especially for Elizabethtown.
The Panthers built a 16-12 advantage early into the second on a bucket by Morgan Gattis, but Maria Gray and Whitson scored twice in a row to cut Bowling Green’s deficit to 18-16 at the 4:27 mark. A three-pointer by Ragland soon after brought the Lady Purples to within 20-19.
“She’s a fighter. She’s a competitor,” Head said. “They did a good job of shadowing Keely and getting to her on the catch, so we had to have people step up. What I love about this team is that we share the ball. We found the open person.”
Elizabethtown answered with five straight points to take a 25-19 lead, and although Ragland made another three, the Panthers later pushed its advantage to 29-22 before taking a 32-22 lead into the locker room at halftime.
Bowling Green missed its last five shots of the half and shot just 9-of-24 (38 percent). The Panthers, who closed the half with a 7-0 run, went 12-of-23 (52 percent) and forced BG into nine turnovers.
Whitson was leading the Lady Purples with nine points at the break, while Ragland had scored eight. Whitney Hay had 10 points for the Panthers, and Gattis was just behind her with seven.
“I thought (Ragland) and Shay did a good job of carrying the offensive load in the first half,” Head said. “I thought she did a really good job of settling us down offensively. Keely picked up in the second half. We just couldn’t find enough points to keep it close.”
Bowling Green continued to battle in the second half, but it just couldn’t maintain Elizabethtown’s many scoring threats.
T’Alla Brown, who chipped her tooth in the first minute of the contest and had to sit for a while, knocked down a three to cut Bowling Green’s deficit to 32-25 at the 6:20 mark of the third quarter. However, Elizabethtown answered with back-to-back buckets – including a triple by Knight – to re-take a double-digit lead of 37-25 near the four-minute mark.
An easy score inside by Hay pushed the Panthers’ advantage to 40-27 with 2:52 remaining in the third. Morrow’s three – and a pair of free throws on the next possession – quickly brought Bowling Green to within 40-32. Another pair of Morrow free throws made it 43-36 with 1:12 left in the quarter.
“’Thank you for a great three years at Bowling Green,’” Morrow said of what she told the team after the game. “It’s been a long ride. Nobody expected us to be here and I was proud of getting here and bringing me back.”
Ragland’s fast-break layup trimmed Elizabethtown’s lead to 43-38, but Hay came up big with a deep ball from the left corner to help the Panthers hold a 46-38 advantage entering the fourth.
“I thought our kids played hard the entire time. They didn’t give up,” Head said. “We cut it back down to eight going into the fourth, and we had two point-blank looks that would’ve probably cut it down to four. Extremely proud of our team and our fight and our drive going down the last stretch of the season.”
It was all Elizabethtown over the course of the final eight minutes.
The Panthers scored the first four points in the final quarter to go up 50-38 and then quickly scored four more to push their lead to 54-38 with 3:59 remaining. Morrow’s bucket made it 56-41, but Bowling Green was still in a 15-point hole with not much time left.
They couldn’t to fight, but the Lady Purples didn’t have enough left in the tank to come all the way back. Although their season just ended, they’re already ready for next year.
“We’re excited about our future,” said Head. “Only losing Keely – and Keely is big shoes to fill; she led us in scoring and rebounding – we’re excited about the progression of our younger athletes.”