FRANKFORT — Alisha Jones was the unlikely hero as she came up with a steal and buzzer-beating layup to give Paul Laurence Dunbar a 45-43 victory over Henry Clay in the 11th Region Tournament semifinals Saturday afternoon.
"That's a kid a lot of you don't even know her name," Dunbar Coach Sarah Bridenbaugh said. "But she came up with a big steal and a big finish and layup."
Dunbar (25-7) plays Lafayette (26-3) in Sunday's 4 p.m. championship game in the Frankfort Convention Center.
Jones, a 5-foot-7 senior reserve who averages two points, was in a daze after her game-winning play.
"I got the ball and just went for (the basket)," she said. "I was nervous I might miss (the layup) because I was using my left hand."
Jones' play capped a gutsy comeback by Dunbar, which trailed 43-37 with 1:50 left.
ShaKeema Jackson, the Bulldogs' three-point shooting star, hit a long-range bomb to make it 43-40.
"ShaKeema has no conscience," Bridenbaugh said. "She came up with a big one for us."
Dunbar's Brooke Todd, the 11th Region player of the year, made a basket, and Ezzy Ighodaro hit one of two free throws to tie it 43-43. Todd had a big block in between those scores.
Henry Clay got the ball after a timeout with 28 seconds left, but made a turnover.
Dunbar missed four shots in the closing seconds before Henry Clay finally grabbed a rebound.
"I thought we were going to overtime," Bridenbaugh said. "But then Alisha made that great play."
Todd, a 6-foot-2 senior, led the winners with 12 points, 11 rebounds and four blocked shots. Jackson also had 12 points, and Ighodaro had 10. Jones added five points. Nicole Armstrong had 10 rebounds.
"Everybody did their part," Bridenbaugh said. "That's what makes me so happy. It was such a team effort."
Henry Clay Coach Eric Sanford credited Jackson "for hitting the big three" that sparked Dunbar's comeback.
Sophomore T'Laya Lyvers and junior Kerrigan Davis led the Devils with 12 points each. Davis also had seven rebounds. Kamari Boyd, a senior, added eight points.
Sanford saw a lot of positives in Henry Clay's run to the region semifinals.
"They've jump-started where we want to be," he said. "We'll be back in the region. We'll know what to expect and we'll be ready to make some noise next year."
Dunbar, meanwhile, gets a rematch with Lafayette, which beat the Bulldogs handily in the district finals.
Bridenbaugh said Dunbar's last-gasp win over Henry Clay will serve her team well.
"This kind of win will give us energy and focus. We'll come in (Sunday) with smiles on our face. Let's hope we can rebound and stay with (Lafayette)."
Paul Dunbar 45, Henry Clay 43
HENRY CLAY (17-12) — Lyvers 12, Davis 12, Boyd 8, Richmond 2, Coney 3, Joyce 3, Young 3.
PAUL DUNBAR (25-7) — Todd 12, Jackson 12, Ighodaro 10, Armstrong 3, Grant 3, Jones 5.
Henry Clay 13 11 9 10—43
Paul Dunbar 13 9 7 16—45