BOWLING GREEN — Call them Knights in shining aura.
Marion County put an exclamation point on its perfect season by beating Notre Dame 52-36 in the finals of the Houchens Industries/KHSAA Girls' Sweet Sixteen in front of a record 6,259 fans in Western Kentucky's Diddle Arena on Saturday night.
The Knights (39-0) became the first undefeated state champions since Marshall County (34-0) in 1984, and their body of work this season established them as one of the best in state history.
"Our record, 39-0, speaks for itself," said Coach Trent Milby, who also noted his team's average margin of victory was over 30 points.
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"It's gotta be one of the greatest, if not the greatest, single seasons ever. I'm not talking about runs of two or three years. I'm talking about one year, and I'll put my team up against anybody."
Led by University of Kentucky signees Makayla Epps and Kyvin Goodin-Rogers, Marion County had only one close game all winter — a three-point victory over Science Hill, Tenn. Its closest call against a Kentucky team was a 15-point win over Mercy.
Notre Dame, rated No. 2 in the tournament, gave Marion County a pretty good test.
The Pandas trailed by 13 at halftime (31-18), and they kept the deficit reasonable, considering what the Knights had done to everybody else.
But Epps and Co. were ultimately too strong, too quick and too talented.
"We set a goal to go 39-0, and people told us we couldn't do it," Epps said. "But we did it. It's crazy to think we did it. But we did and showed we're one of the greatest teams ever in the state of Kentucky."
Epps orchestrated the finale like a maestro. The 5-foot-11 senior point guard scored her team's first nine points before settling into the role of passer, rebounder and defender. She finished the night with 15 points, six rebounds and five assists.
"She did what a McDonald's All-American is supposed to do," Milby said. "She got us here and led us to the state title."
Epps got plenty of help from Goodin-Rogers (10 points), Patrice Tonge (nine points, eight rebounds), Alexus Calhoun (five points, eight rebounds), Logan Powell (seven points, five rebounds) and eighth-grader Haeli Howard (six points, three steals).
Notre Dame was led by Haylee Smith (12 points, 10 rebounds) and Olivia Voskuhl (11 points, six rebounds).
Marion County accomplished one of the most difficult tasks in sports: playing up to expectations. After it lost to Manual 58-54 in last year's state finals, the Knights set a goal of going unbeaten this season.
It did just that, with Epps serving as the catalyst.
Twenty years after her father, Anthony Epps, was voted MVP of the Sweet Sixteen after leading Marion County to the state title, Makayla earned MVP honors of this state tournament.
With her dad watching from the bench as an assistant coach, Epps totaled 91 points, 22 rebounds and 22 assists in leading Marion County to lopsided victories over Bowling Green (64-43), Montgomery County (71-23), Anderson County (72-49) and then the grind-it-out win over Notre Dame.
"It means the world to me," Anthony Epps said. "I've seen the hard work Makayla's put in, and I'm so happy for her and all these girls. It's been a magical, magical season."
■ Total attendance for the week was 39,686, the third highest in the event's history.
■ All-tournament: Epps, Goodin-Rogers, Powell of Marion County; Smith, Voskuhl, Elly Ogle of Notre Dame; Morgan Allen and Kayla Styles of Manual; Eriel McKee and Mackenzie Cann of Anderson County; Taylor Meadows of Marshall County; Becca Greenwell of Owensboro Catholic; Brianna Fraley of Shelby Valley; Macie Spence of Montgomery County.
Julie Cornett of Letcher Central won the Joe Billy Mansfield Award.
Patrice Tonge of Marion County won the Forcht Bank/Kentucky National Insurance Uncommon Excellence Award.
Manual's Kayla Styles won the Patti Jo Hedges Ultimate Teammate Award.