BOWLING GREEN — If Coach Al Northington does ever slow down long enough to write the book about his life and the amazing turnaround of the Iroquois program, that book will have a heck of an ending.
In his 10 years at Iroquois, Northington has seen the program go from a laughingstock of Louisville, forfeiting games because it didn't have enough players and losing games by 50-plus points, to a Houchens Industries Sweet Sixteen champion. The Raiders beat top-ranked Elizabethtown 55-47 Saturday night in overtime.
In the extra period, Iroquois outscored the Panthers 11-3 to win the program's first title.
"We've worked extremely hard, very, very hard, and I'm just thankful they got the result that they got," Northington said after the nail-biter. "These girls showed me a lot. We played with a lot of heart and determination. We did something right."
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Iroquois led by as many as six points midway through the fourth quarter. The Raiders went to an uncharacteristic stall offense, trying to get E-town out of its zone defense and trying to milk the clock.
But it backfired near the end when Iroquois couldn't hit its free throws and the Panthers made back-to-back three-pointers, including a go-ahead trey by Dorian Downs from the right corner with 21 seconds to go in regulation.
Asia Mathies corralled a missed free throw by sister Adia Mathies and was fouled with seven seconds left. The senior guard hit a free throw to send it to overtime.
"We wrote it down on a piece of paper, 'composure,' and they kept their composure, and we stayed together and did what it took, and I'm proud of them," Northington said.
Asia Mathies led the Raiders with 15 points, five rebounds, four assists and three steals.
"This feels great," she said, still shaking and a tear streaming down her cheek. "It was crazy, so crazy."
Sister Adia, a University of Kentucky signee, earned tournament Most Valuable Player honors and scored 10 points, grabbed eight rebounds and dished out four assists.
"It was crazy," Adia Mathies echoed her sister. "There were so many ups and downs. They made shots, then we made shots. It was pure pandemonium, but somehow we came out with the win."
It was a difficult loss for Elizabethtown, which had won 19 in a row and came in as the top-ranked team in the state.
"It's painful because you feel like you had a chance," Coach Tim Mudd said. "It takes a few breaks, that's just the bottom line. Tonight I didn't think we got too many breaks."
Iroquois came out of the gate quickly with a 9-2 run.
"The first quarter, we really dug ourselves a hole, and we were playing catch-up the rest of the day," Mudd said.
But Elizabethtown used a 12-2 run, including nine unanswered points, to get right back in it and get within a point, 22-21, at halftime.
Elizabethtown got its first lead of the game 23-22 on a Terra Lucas layin before the Raiders responded with an 8-0 run to grab a 30-23 lead early in the third quarter.
Iroquois spread the floor on nearly every possession in the fourth quarter and made it interesting at the end.
The Panthers got 18 points and 11 rebounds from Eastern Kentucky signee Alex Jones. Lucas added 11 points.
"This team overachieved because we certainly didn't have the caliber of players that my 1998 team had," Mudd said of his last state champion. "It's been a great year, and this team has been a pleasure to coach."
It's been a pleasure for Northington, too, who found his happy ending at Iroquois.
He believed in the Raiders at a time when they didn't even believe in themselves.
Now they can call themselves Sweet Sixteen champs.
"This means so much," Adia Mathies said. "This means everything. We really need this for Iroquois and our program. And these seniors — we've all been through so much together — it's the perfect ending."
The announced attendance for the championship game was 4,016, bringing the four-day total for the tournament to 36,713. That total is the second highest for a tournament held in Bowling Green and the third highest in the 48-year history of the tournament.