BOWLING GREEN — Manual and Marion County showed in the semifinals of the Houchens Industries/KHSAA Sweet Sixteen why they were ranked as the state's top two teams in the pre-season.
The two played a classic in the opener of Saturday's morning session, with the Crimsons hanging on for a 56-54 win.
The second semifinal saw Rockcastle County beat Calloway County 57-38 to set up Saturday night's championship game.
The Knights had several chances to tie in the final minutes. Sophomore guard Makayla Epps' running bank shot from the right side went halfway down and popped out with 21 seconds remaining.
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Manual's Mecheal Guess then missed the front end of a one-and-one, and Marion County had one last chance.
Epps split two defenders and got a wide-open look at the rim, but her layup attempt rolled off the front of the rim. Patrice Tonge then missed on two put-back attempts as the clock expired.
Manual Coach Stacy Pendleton said the win makes up for last season, when the Crimsons bowed out to Louisville Christian in the region tournament after giving up a score in a similar situation.
"This time we got that stop," he said. "This is total redemption for a miserable finish last year."
"Our togetherness helped us the last two minutes," said Guess, who had 13 points and seven rebounds for Manual.
The game was back and forth for four quarters, with seven ties and 13 lead changes. Marion County scored the game's first seven points, but Manual led 33-27 at halftime.
Marion led 52-50 on two Kyvin Goodin-Rogers free throws at the four-minute mark, but Manual then crashed the offensive boards to reclaim the lead.
Guess tied the game at 52 on a put-back while being fouled by Goodin-Rogers, and Kara Wright rebounded Guess's missed free throw and scored to put the Lady Crimsons up 54-52 at 3:43.
"Those two plays really stick out to me," Marion County Coach Trent Milby said. "Things like that can't happen in a close game."
Epps tied it with a drive to the basket at 1:39 but lamented the two shots she didn't make down the stretch, calling the final miss "unlucky."
"I put this loss on myself," said Epps. "I had the lane, and I got what I wanted. If I would have finished, we would have gotten them in overtime."
With sophomores Epps (18 points, four assists) and Goodin-Rogers (20 points) returning along with junior Bre Elder, the future looks bright.
"We'll be back next year," Epps said, "and we're going to win it all."
Rockcastle County 57, Calloway County 38: Big surges to start the third and fourth quarters helped the Rockets push their way into their first championship game.
A 10-4 rally in the third and a 16-1 rally to start the fourth quarter were the key.
Angie Lawrence scored 12 of her 15 points in the fourth quarter to lift the Rockets.
"It's all unreal," Lawrence said of her chance to go to the title game, something the Rockets fell short of last season in the semifinals.
Fellow senior Sara Hammond added 15 points and 13 boards.
"A lot of people didn't really know what we could do against these types of schools, but we came to the state tournament with a lot of pride in who we are and where we came from and to show everyone what we have," Hammond said.
Calloway County was led by West Virginia signee Averee Fields' 28 points, nine rebounds and three steals.
But she was the only one in double digits.
"We didn't make some shots," Coach Scott Sivills said. "We didn't have anyone else step up and make them."
It was the only loss to a Kentucky team for the Lakers (32-2) this season.