BOWLING GREEN — Makayla Epps, the driving force behind No. 1 Marion County's drive for perfection, had her game in high gear in the semifinals of the Houchens Industries/KHSAA Sweet Sixteen on Saturday.
Epps, a 5-foot-11 senior point guard who has signed with Kentucky, had 28 points, seven assists, three steals and three rebounds in a 72-49 rout of Anderson County in Diddle Arena.
"I'm a senior, and this was a final four game, a do-or-die, win-or-go-home game," Epps said of her motivation.
Anderson County Coach Tony Kays was impressed by the Miss Basketball finalist.
"She's without a doubt the best high school guard I've ever seen," Kays said. "Her strength, speed, athleticism, the way she carries herself with confidence, she's a total team leader for them."
Marion County put itself one win away from its goal of being the first unbeaten state champion since Marshall County in 1984.
Notre Dame earned a shot at Marion County by beating defending champ Manual 64-60 in their semifinal. The Pandas hit 10 consecutive free throws in the last 2:19 to decide the tight battle.
There wasn't much drama in the first semifinal as Marion County's talent level overwhelmed Anderson County and ended the Bearcats' 26-game winning streak.
The Knights led 25-19 late in the first half, but then went on an extended 33-8 run that carried over to the opening minute of the fourth quarter.
Kays warned his team that Marion County would go for the knockout to start the second half.
"We had to be concerned about those first three minutes, that's when they really pour it on and try to finish you off," he said.
Epps had six points in a 11-2 surge in those first three minutes.
Marion County won easily even though Kyvin Goodin-Rogers, also a UK signee and Miss Basketball finalist, missed her first nine shots. The 6-1 senior finished with seven points.
Logan Powell, a 5-9 senior, added 11 points and nine rebounds.
Anderson County was led by 6-0 junior Makenzie Cann's 18 points and 12 rebounds. Eriel McKee, a 5-10 junior and the Bearcats' leading scorer, missed her first 11 shots and finished with four points and nine rebounds.
Kays said knowing that he'll have Cann and McKee back next year was why he was able to smile after the loss to Marion County.
"With these two, we should be a team to be dealt with next year," he said.
Notre Dame outbattled Manual thanks to clutch play down the stretch.
The Pandas were only 7-for-19 from the free throw line before they cashed their last 10 chances.
"If there's one thing these girls love to do is keep me on the edge of my seat," Coach Nicole Levandusky said. "But they hit 'em when it counted, and that's all that matters."
Oliva Voskuhl's 18 points and 10 rebounds led Notre Dame, but she had lots of help. Elly Ogle had 16 points, six rebounds and four steals. Paige Kellam had 12 points and seven steals, and Carlee Clemons added 12 points and five assists.
Notre Dame became the first 9th Region team to reach the finals since Highlands was state runner-up in 1994.
Manual was led by Morgan Allen, who hit five three-pointers and had 22 points. Destony Curry had 19 points. Crimsons star Kayla Styles had only five points but did grab seven rebounds.
The loss brought an end to Stacy Pendleton's nine-year coaching career at Manual. His teams won the state title last year and were runners-up in 2011.
Mike Fields: (859) 231-3337. Twitter: @MikeFieldsNotes. Blog: fieldsnotes.bloginky.com