FRANKFORT — Maybe it's time to hyphenate Walton-Verona a second time.
Walton-Verona-Champions has a ring to it, and the Lady Bearcats' basketball players will soon have rings on their fingers after winning the Touchstone Energy All "A" Classic on Sunday afternoon.
The title didn't come easy.
Walton-Verona had to dodge a couple of bullets at the end of regulation and overtime, but it held on to beat Newport Central Catholic 38-36 in a game dominated by defense in the Frankfort Convention Center.
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"Unbelievable," Coach Mark Clinkenbeard said as he watched his players hoist the championship trophy. "We got a little lucky, but we just gutted it out. That's all I can say. We just gutted it out."
Lady Bearcats senior Jenalee Ginn said she was "the happiest person on earth right now. It's awesome."
Kara Taulbee led the winners with 11 points, including a clutch three-pointer in overtime. Michele Judy had eight points, 14 rebounds and four blocked shots. Courtney Sandlin, the tournament MVP, had six points and six rebounds while battling foul trouble.
Walton-Verona, which won a state cross country title a few years ago, had never made it to a state finals in basketball before. The team is now in a five-way tie for ninth in Dave Cantrall's Rating the State. Its fans turned out in big numbers and were probably the most vocal all week.
Asked what the small-school hoops title meant to the school and community south of Covington, Clinkenbeard pointed toward the blue-clad throng and said, "What do you think?"
NewCath, which won the 2010 title and was in the girls' finals for the fourth time, had its chances to salvage victory.
The Thoroughbreds rallied from a 34-30 deficit in the last minute after forcing the Lady Bearcats into three consecutive turnovers.
With her team down 34-33, NewCath's Aubrey Muench drove to the basket and was fouled with one second left in regulation. She made the first free throw but missed the second, and the game went into overtime.
Points were still at a premium in the four-minute extra period. Only one field goal was scored, but it was a big one.
After Muench hit two foul shots to give NewCath a 36-34 lead, Taulbee dodged an onrushing defender and knocked down a three-pointer from the right wing to put her team ahead to stay.
"It was huge, I'm not going to lie," Taulbee said. "I threw it up and hoped it'd go in."
Clinkenbeard was impressed. "The guts it takes to take that shot — incredible," he said.
Walton-Verona's Lizzie Hoffa added a free throw to make it 38-36 with 20 seconds left, but that was plenty of time for NewCath to win or force another overtime.
Olivia Huber fired a three that was short, but teammate Nicole Kiernan got the rebound and hurried a shot that missed at the buzzer.
It was that kind of afternoon for NewCath, which struggled to score from start to finish. It shot just 23 percent (11-for-47, including 2-for-17 on threes). Kiernan led the Breds with 12 points, 17 rebounds and five steals.
NewCath's defense almost rescued it, but not quite.
Coach Ron Dawn said "that's what we have to do because we're not very good at the other end of the floor other than one or two kids."
As for the missed opportunities at the end of regulation and overtime, Dawn said, "there were so many other plays earlier in the game, missed layups and free throws, that you can look back on, too.
"It's tough, but we lost to a good team right there."
Dawn was motioning toward to Walton-Verona-Champions.
Walton-Verona (17-4) — Clinkenbeard 4, Slavey 3, Judy 8, Ginn 5, Taulbee 11, Sandlin 6, Hoffa 1.
Newport Central Catholic (13-4) — Huber 5, Ware 3, Kiernan 12, Muench 6, Kohls 5, Mayes 3, Schalk 2.
Walton-Verona 8 6 7 13 4—38
Newport Catholic 7 10 6 11 2—36
All-tournament: Courtney Sandlin (MVP), Kara Taulbee, Jenalee Ginn, Michele Judy of Walton-Verona; Olivia Huber, Nicole Kiernan, Aubrey Muench of Newport Catholic; Madison Eisenman, Sarah Futscher of Bishop Brossart; Leah Greathhouse, Mary Kate Clemens of Owensboro Catholic; Micah Jones of Green County; Jamie Castle of Magoffin County.