BOWLING GREEN — Marion County looked every bit a state champion-in-waiting Friday, crushing Montgomery County 71-32 in the Houchens Industries/KHSAA Girls' Sweet Sixteen.
The top-ranked Lady Knights improved to 37-0, needing wins in Saturday morning's semifinals and the night's championship game in Diddle Arena to do what no team has done since Marshall County in 1984 — complete an undefeated season.
Can anybody beat Marion?
"No," Montgomery Coach Janie Robinson said. "Nobody can beat them. ... There's a lot of scenarios, but as far as straight-up basketball skills, no. They're the best I've seen."
Makayla Epps, who along with Kyvin Goodin-Rogers has signed to play for Kentucky next season, used a mild qualifier when asked if her team is unbeatable.
"Anybody can be beat any given night," Epps said. "... But we're 37-0. The closest game we've had all year was like 13 (16, actually) to Manual and three to the Science Hill, Tenn., team. In the back of my head, there's a part of me that says we played primarily everybody, they haven't beat us — nowhere close. So one side is like 'you all are unbeatable.'
"But then again, you've got to go out and play every game because you can be beat just as easy as the other team can be beat."
The Lady Knights got off to a slow start against the Indians, who took a 10-4 lead on back-to-back Erica Rogers three-pointers.
Marion got a quick three-pointer of its own from 5-foot-9 Logan Powell.
After Schyler Tipton scored for a 12-7 Montgomery lead, Marion reeled off 11 in a row, kick-starting a 30-5 knockout punch.
Powell scored 11 of those 30, Epps had nine and Goodin-Rogers had eight.
"They came out and they hit two or three threes right there at the start and got some momentum. We switched to man-to-man and Logan Powell got hot and got us right back in it," Marion County Coach Trent Milby said. "And our defense just continued to pressure them and make all their shots hard for them to take. Just great, smothering defense, rebounding, getting out there and getting some easy baskets."
The Knights are in the semifinals for a third year in a row. They fell to Manual in last year's title game.
"It means a lot making it back to a third straight Saturday morning game," Epps said. "We worked hard all year to have that team goal before the season started — to go 39-0 — and that's what we're still trying to do."
Epps, a 5-foot-11 point guard, led Marion with 22 points, five rebounds and six assists.
Powell, a Norfolk State signee, netted 19 points and eight rebounds, shooting 3-for-5 from three-point range.
Goodin-Rogers, 6-1, had 16 points, 11 rebounds, five blocks and five steals.
Patrice Tonge scored six points and was the defensive stopper. She held Montgomery County's Rogers, averaging 14.5 points, to 11.
Tipton added eight points and five rebounds for the 13th-rated Indians (29-7).
"The first quarter was fun for us," Robinson said. "The first seven minutes, we were able to really compete and hit some shots and get some open looks.
"But I think once he went 'man,' he made it much tougher for us to get looks. Then it was definitely a challenge. But I'm proud of my kids. We've done some neat things, this group, in the last four years."
At E.A. Diddle Arena in Bowling Green Radio: WVLK-FM 101.5 Live tweeting: Follow @MarkMaloneyHL and @MikeFieldsNotes throughout the tournament. Video: Live broadcasts of every game on Kentucky.com through iHigh.com. Photo galleries: Kentucky.com