RICHMOND — Heads were down. Doubts clouded everything.
After Bryan Station's big loss to Scott County in the girls' high school basketball district championship game last week, the Defenders did not look like a team ready to make a run at an 11th Region championship.
But Coach Karra Jackson didn't demand more discipline after the loss. She let the Defenders be.
"We've lightened up the last couple of days and they're enjoying each other," she said. "When they're loose and having fun, they play so much better."
They looked like a team having fun in Tuesday's 71-59 victory over No. 20 Franklin County in the first round of the region tournament at Eastern Kentucky.
With the win, the Defenders advance to the semifinals for the first time since 2000. They will face No. 22 Madison Central, which beat Lexington Catholic Tuesday.
All it took for the Defenders to get there was a little bit of relaxation.
"We'd been all tight and tense and everything, but yesterday we got to actually just play and play around and it let us relax and be cool," said guard Carrington Caise, who had a game-best 20 points and six rebounds.
Bryan Station looked at ease pretty early on.
The Defenders (24-6) went on a 13-2 run, fueled mostly by defense, holding the Flyers without a field goal for more than 11 minutes in the first half while building an 18-point lead.
Caise had 15 points and four rebounds at the half and Serena Sandusky had 10 points and five steals before the break when Station led 40-23.
"When we play like that it's like we have nothing to worry about," said Sandusky, who finished with 18 points and eight steals.
Jackson had a good time watching that big half from the Bryan Station bench.
"It's fun to watch," she said. "But it's one of those things where you hold your breath and think 'please let this last.' "
The Flyers (20-12) chipped away at the Bryan Station lead until they got as close as eight points.
It was a bit too much deja vu for Jackson and her players, who blew a six-point lead with less than a minute to play in this same gym against this same team a year ago.
But this time around the Defenders were able to hold off the Flyers' final flurry.
Lacinda Hack led Franklin with 17 points. Ashli Mays added 14 points and eight steals.
Madison Central 61, Lexington Catholic 49: Coach Robbie Cooksey heard whispers all season about how Central wasn't willing to put in the effort on defense to win games.
After Tuesday night's big win over the Knights, Cooksey begs to differ.
"We sucked it up and did what we needed to do," Cooksey said. "We had three in double-digit figures, but it was our defense tonight that carried us."
The No. 22 Indians forced 20 Knights turnovers (13 were on Central steals) and scored 16 points off them.
Several of those points came as a part of an 11-0 run late in the game that put away a pesky Catholic crew that had cut it to three points late.
"We had a lot of poise at the end of the game," Cooksey said. "The kids dug their heels in and did what they had to do."
Larryn Brooks, who had her own 6-0 run in that spree, finished with 16 points as did Jenna Cornelison, who added six rebounds and three steals. Ashton Feldhaus pitched in 15 points and six boards.
"They were tough to stop," Coach Chelsea Chowning said. "We hung with them and then that little stretch at the end was the difference."
Erica Parks had five steals and six assists and also had the tough task of containing Octavia Wilson, one of the Knights' stars.
Parks helped hold Wilson without a field goal until 42 seconds remained and the game was out of reach. She missed her first nine shots.
Alex Botkin had a monster game for the Knights with 22 points and 17 rebounds.
The good news, Chowning said, is that the Knights have everyone back next season.
"That takes the sting away a little bit," she said. "They don't want to leave next year's 11th Region Tournament feeling this way."
BRYAN STATION (24-6) — A. Crumbie 4-9 1-3 9, Caise 5-9 8-13 20, Prince 1-5 5-6 8, Sandusky 7-11 2-4 18, Clark 2-10 2-2 6, McCoy 1-2 2-8 5, H. Crumbie 2-2 1-2 5, Frazier 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 22-50 21-38 71.
FRANKLIN CO. (20-12) — Brown 5-9 2-2 12, Hack 4-9 9-13 17, Mays 3-13 8-8 14, White 1-2 0-4 2, Rivers 2-3 3-4 7, Timmons 1-10 3-8 5, Mello 1-3 0-2 2. Totals 17-49 25-31 59.
Bryan Station 15 25 14 17—71
Franklin Co. 10 13 16 20—59
LEXINGTON CATHOLIC (19-12) — Botkin 8-13 6-9 22, Johns 2-4 1-2 5, Walton 2-3 0-1 4, Rhule 0-4 1-2 1, Wilson 1-10 1-2 3, Blake 5-8 1-2 12, Cawood 0-2 2-3 2, Browning 0-1 0-0 0, Pippen 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 18-46 12-21 49.
MADISON CENTRAL (21-9) — Feldhaus 6-14 0-0 15, Congleton 1-3 1-4 3, Brooks 6-12 4-6 16, Parks 2-4 0-0 4, Cornelison 3-12 9-12 16, Hinkle 3-5 0-1 7. Totals 21-50 14-25 61.
Lexington Catholic 17 15 9 8—49
Madison Central 21 15 9 16—61