Owensboro Catholic shakes off rusty start in 56-46 win over Johnson Central
HIGHLAND HEIGHTS,Ky.—Owensboro Catholic was the last team to qualify for the St. Elizabeth Healthcare/KHSAA Girls Sweet Sixteen® Basketball Tournament after a 55-45 victory over Muhlenberg County in the Region Three Championship Game on Sunday afternoon, and the Lady Aces had to face the difficult task of turning around and playing the very first of the game of the state tournament just three days later.
But outside of a shaky first quarter in their opening-round matchup against 15th Region champion Johnson Central, the Lady Aces put forth a solid effort by outscoring Central 20-5 in the second quarter on the way to a 56-46 win over the Lady Eagles on Wednesday afternoon at Northern Kentucky University’s BB&T Arena.
“We just relaxed,” Owensboro Catholic head coach Michael Robertson said. “(Johnson Central) got in foul trouble, and we decided with their ball handlers not being in the game we were going to really get out and try to extend our pressure. I think we got them playing faster than they wanted to, and we were able to get out and score a lot of fast break points.”
The Lady Aces imposed an up-tempo style of play in the second frame, and the Lady Eagles struggled with Owensboro Catholic’s size—especially when several players were in foul trouble during the second quarter.
Owensboro Catholic (27-7) advanced to the state quarterfinals for the third time in six seasons with the win over the Lady Eagles.
“The girls don’t want to let me, themselves, or their teammates down,” Robertson said. “It’s just something that has built since back when (current Duke standout Rebecca Greenwell) was here. They want to do the best for them, and they don’t want to be that team that didn’t make it or the team that had a subpar effort.”
However Johnson Central (20-13) was the one who opened up the game on a strong note as the Lady Eagles led 14-8 at the end of the first quarter after a jumper by Tierra Montgomery with 11 seconds left in the frame.
Owensboro Catholic would dominate the ensuing eight minutes.
The Lady Aces tied it up at 14-all on a pair of free throws by Caroline Reid, and Owensboro Catholic took an 18-16 lead on a layup by Hannah McKay with three minutes to go before halftime. The Lady Aces proceeded to close out the half on a 10-3 run—a breakaway layup by Sarah Beth Clemens with three seconds left giving Owensboro Catholic a 28-19 advantage at the break.
“It was a 15-point differential in the second quarter and we only lost by 10,” Johnson Central head coach Darrin Rice said. “We were able to stay even pretty much and even ahead a little bit those other three quarters, but the second (quarter) really, really hurt us.”
The Lady Eagles were able to get as close as 34-27 after a free throw by Jana Jarvis at the 3:17 mark of the third quarter. The Lady Aces answered with a 8-1 run to close the frame—a layup by McKay giving Owensboro Catholic a 42-28 lead heading into the final quarter.
Johnson Central made one final push when Sammi Sites made her third 3-pointer of the afternoon to make the score 47-39, but Catherine Head answered with a layup on the ensuing possession to give the Lady Aces a double-digit lead once again. The Lady Eagles were never able to cut it back to single digits the rest of the way.
Johnson Central’s remarkable run finally came to an end with the loss to the Lady Aces. The Lady Eagles went just 3-9 in their first 12 games but ended the regular season on a strong note before upsetting Shelby Valley and Pikeville in the regional tournament to punch their ticket to state.
“I’ve never been more proud of a team in 28 years of coaching and I mean that,” Rice said. “From elementary to high school, from boys to girls…I’ve been around a while. But this group will always hold a special place in my heart.”
Kelci Blair was the Lady Eagles’ only scorer in double-digits with 11 while Sites and Ashley Belcher each had nine.
Owensboro Catholic was led in the win by sophomore Hannah McKay, who had a double-double of 23 points and 10 rebounds.
“It was just pure athleticism,” Robertson said. “She goes out there and plays hard all the time and runs the floor. She just plays really, really hard.”
“(Robertson) said it was ‘win or go home,” McKay said. “So I just played my heart out because I didn’t want to go home.”
Mackenzie Keelin added eight points for the Lady Aces while Sarah Beth Clemens and Ellie Mitchell each had six.
Owensboro Catholic will now play either First Region champion Murray or 12th Region and defending state champion Mercer County on Friday afternoon at 12 p.m., E.T. The Lady Aces have played Murray once this season, and the Lady Tigers netted 16-of-30 3-pointers in a 91-73 win back on Feb. 10.
“I’m hoping that we can work on some things in the next few days,” Robertson said. One thing that both those teams do is they shoot the three really well. We’ll have our hands full with either one of those teams because they can both shoot the lights out.”