BOWLING GREEN — It wasn't a thing of beauty, but Rockcastle County found a way to advance to the semifinals of the Houchens Industries/KHSAA Girls Sweet Sixteen with a 47-30 victory over Clay County in the last quarterfinal game in E.A. Diddle Arena on Friday night.
It was a physical, rough-and-tumble contest. Neither team shot the ball well, but the Lady Rockets' senior tandem of Sarah Hammond and Angie Lawrence were too much for the Lady Tigers.
Hammond, a McDonald's All-American and Miss Basketball candidate, finished with 15 points while Lawrence chipped in 11.
Clay County suffered a blow when center Whitney Belle Jackson turned her ankle after scoring two early baskets on Hammond. Jackson returned shortly thereafter, but eventually she headed back to the bench in the second quarter with her third foul.
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The Lady Tigers managed to hang close for a while, and Rockcastle led 19-18 at the half.
The Lady Rockets took control in the third quarter, outscoring Clay County 15-4. Hammond had two quick baskets to start the quarter and Lawrence added a three-point play to push it to 26-18. Lawrence's steal and bucket gave Rockcastle a 34-22 lead at the end of the third.
The Lady Rockets (33-1) have won 25 games in a row and haven't lost to an in-state opponent this season. Their next opponent, Calloway County, also hasn't lost to a Kentucky team this year.
Rockcastle County also made it to the semis last year before losing to Scott County.
Clay County (27-7) was led by Jackson's 13 points.
Manual 48, Bowling Green 32: Coach Stacy Pendleton left the locker room early, leaving most of the halftime speech to his team's four seniors.
With the top-ranked Crimsons trailing 27-23, his seniors knew what needed to be done.
"We're not going home," Mechael Guess told her team.
"They're not better than us," Raven Hester added.
Both proved to be right as Manual (32-4) put the clamps down in the second half, holding the Purples to just two field goals. The final one didn't come until 1:02 was left in the game.
Against Manual's aggressive man-to-man defense, the Purples shot just 12.5 percent in the second half after making 52.4 percent in the first.
"Our defense in the second half was crazy," Pendleton said.
The Crimsons were led by Leasia Wright's 14 points and three steals. Guess added 13 points, nine rebounds and three steals. Manual scored 22 points off turnovers to just five for the Purples.
"We kind of gave up," Bowling Green Coach LaVonda Johnson said. "But credit duPont Manual. That's what great teams do."
Brittany Vaughn scored 11 points for Bowling Green (25-2).
Calloway County 62, Sheldon Clark 51: Teams like Marion County and Manual were supposed to be in the state's final four. They're big-name teams that everyone around the state expects to be there.
Not Calloway County.
But the Lakers (32-1), who turned a one-point lead to start the fourth quarter into an 11-point win, are happy to be in the final mix.
They advance still unbeaten by a state opponent.
"I don't know if we're the mystery team or the Cinderella team," Coach Scott Sivills said. "I don't know what you want to call us, but I think we're a pretty darn good basketball team."
Senior Averee Fields led the Lakers with 22 points, 15 rebounds, three assists and three blocked shots. The West Virginia signee scored all but five of those points in the second half. Taylor Futrell added 14 points.
"They made plays in the fourth quarter and we didn't." Cardinals Coach Darrin Rice said.
Sophomore Katelyn Newsome led Sheldon Clark (25-9) with 23 points, and Carla Booth added 19 points and 10 rebounds.