RICHMOND — Courtney Clifton says she's just like any other player on the floor.
"Like everybody is before a game, I'm nervous, then the ball tips and I go play," the Lexington Christian senior said. "Either you have a good shooting night or you don't, you just keep working hard."
Saying Clifton had a "good shooting night" for the Eagles would be quite the understatement.
She scored a career-high 38 points, including six three-pointers, in the 11th Region championship game to lead Christian over Scott County 81-59 Saturday night.
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The LCA victory sets up a huge first-round Houchens Industries Sweet Sixteen matchup between the state's top two teams according to Dave Cantrall's Rating the State.
The No. 2 Eagles will meet top-ranked Elizabethtown in Bowling Green on Thursday. Christian fell to the Panthers 77-64 in late December.
Clifton had a little extra motivation to have a big night for the Eagles, who won their 15th straight. The senior guard wanted to make an early detour to Diddle Arena and Western Kentucky, where she will play next season.
"She made plays no matter who was on her," Scott County Coach Steve Helton said of Clifton, who also had three rebounds and two assists. "We tried to limit her touches as much as possible, but it was a great individual effort on her part."
Clifton had tons of help, though, Helton pointed out.
"Big-time players step up in big-time games and tonight, LCA showed it has several big-time players," he said.
In the second half, when his Cardinals team pulled within seven points late in the third quarter, Christian went on a 23-2 run that ultimately sealed a return to trip to Diddle, where the Eagles won the 2007 state championship.
In that run, LCA's big three of Clifton, DePaul signee Anna Martin and Kentucky commitment Sarah Beth Barnette scored 21 of the 23 points.
"We ran into a buzz saw," Helton said.
Martin fouled out late in the fourth quarter with 25 points, eight rebounds and seven steals. Barnette added eight points, 12 rebounds, three steals and two blocked shots.
Strapped with two fouls in the first half, Barnette and Martin were both limited. But Clifton picked up any slack, scoring 20 points before the break.
"Unbelievable," Seamands said of Clifton's early performance. "They played a funky defense on us in the first half and I felt like I could call anything for Courtney and she was going to bury it.
"We could have been down huge in the first half. We could have been in trouble and Courtney bailed us out big time."
Early in the first half, Scott County led by as many as eight points behind Kristen Stainback, who had 17 points at the half and led the Cards with 24 points in all.
A Stainback fast break layin halfway through the second quarter gave the Cardinals a 29-24 lead before the Eagles went on a 17-4 tear to grab a 41-33 lead at the half.
LCA barely looked back from there.
"Being a senior, this was our last chance to get to state," Martin said. "We wanted to go all the way and I think we played that way."
Experience was the key factor in the second half, Helton said. The coach returns every player next season and expects that his Cardinals will be the team with that experience next year.
"The one thing that keeps a grin on my face is they're all coming back," he said. "We're going to learn from this. ...
"It hurts. It hurts, but this team has come a long way this year and we're going to be back."
lexington christian 81, scott Co. 59
LEXINGTON CHRISTIAN (29-4) — Martin 9-19 6-7 25; Barnette 4-12 0-0 8; Dorton 1-4 0-0 2; Cox 2-4 0-0 6; Clifton 14-25 4-6 38; Jacob 0-0 2-2 2; Mitchuson 0-3 0-0 0; Purdy 0-1 0-0 0; Rhinehart 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 30-69 12-15 81.
SCOTT CO. (16-16) — Guyn 0-3 0-1 0; McKenzie 2-3 2-2 6; Stainback 10-22 2-2 24; Jackson 1-6 1-3 3; Webb 5-10 5-5 16; Conrad 2-10 1-1 6; Clay 2-2 0-0 4; Guy 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 22-67 11-14 59.
Lexington Christian 17 24 20 20—81
Scott Co. 20 13 16 10—59