A high ranking is nice, Tony Kays says, but all that does in January is put a target on your back.
This after his Anderson County girls, No. 2 in Dave Cantrall's Rating the State, scored a 51-41 victory Wednesday at Henry Clay.
"Our kids have, so far, met the challenge," Kays said. "Of course, it's early. It's nice to be ranked. That hasn't happened to our school in quite awhile, if ever. It's nice that these kids are getting recognition. They've worked really hard to get where they're at."
The Lady Bearcats (14-1) have won six in a row since falling 43-41 to Bryan Station.
Kays hopes that a challenging slate will serve a purpose.
"We've played a tough schedule," he said, "hoping that would help us get to where we want to go in March."
Eriel McKee led Anderson with 14 points. MacKenzie Cann added 13. Jessica Rice came off the bench to add 10.
Jasmine Richmond tallied 12 points for Henry Clay (8-6). Areanna Porter grabbed 16 rebounds and scored four points.
"She plays bigger than what she is," Lady Devils Coach Eric Sanford said of Porter. "She's 5-9, 5-10. Everybody she plays against is bigger than her and she just steps up to the challenge every night, and that's why we love her."
Porter grabbed five boards in the first quarter, helping Henry Clay to an 11-6 lead.
Anderson County's 17-5 second-quarter edge put the visitors in control, though.
"They came out very aggressive in half-court defense. ... We didn't quite match their intensity level coming out," Kays said. "Took a timeout or two and we were able to refocus, and we settled down and started playing."
Cann beat the first-half buzzer by swishing a half-court shot from along the sideline. But that shot wasn't the only key to the turnaround.
"I think we turned up our pressure defense and started getting on the boards more," Cann said. "It was kind of a wakeup call, so we started doing better."
The Lady Bearcats expanded their lead to 38-21 through three quarters, again holding the Devils to five points.
Henry Clay scored six straight points — two by Richmond and four by Kamari Boyd — to pull to within 42-30 with six minutes left.
Richmond's three-pointer with 3:22 left cut the deficit to single digits, 46-37.
Richmond's steal-and-layup with 2:10 remaining made it 47-41. The Devils didn't score again, though.
Cann and McKee each knocked down a pair of free throws down the stretch, while Henry Clay missed three shots and committed the last two of its 17 turnovers.
"They were a little bit tougher tonight. It's part of our growing pains, being a young team," Sanford said. "They kind of stuck it to us, especially that second quarter — they went on a (17-5) quarter, and that kind of hurt us. ... We bounced back. We dug ourselves a hole, and it was too little too late."
ANDERSON CO. (14-1) — Stewart 0, Whiteside 4, Cann 13, Avitt 3, McKee 14, Rice 10, Robinson 3, Correas 4. Totals 15-39 15-22 51.
HENRY CLAY (8-6) — Richmond 12, Lyvers 7, Carter 3, Davis 0, Porter 4, Coney 4, Boyd 7, Young 4. Totals 16-56 6-12 41.
Anderson County 6 17 15 13—51
Henry Clay 11 5 5 20—41
Three-point goals — AC 6-16 (Stewart 0-1, Cann 3-5, Avitt 0-1, McKee 1-2, Rice 2-3, Robinson 0-3, Correas 0-1), HC 3-13 (Richmond 2-8, Lyvers 1-1, Davis 0-3, Coney 0-1).
Mark Maloney: (859) 231-3229 Twitter: @MarkMaloneyHL Blog: markmaloney.bloginky.com