It took 36 years and some grinding, but Franklin County finally picked up another Sweet Sixteen victory. The Flyers pulled out a 47-39 win over Shelby Valley in the first round of the St. Elizabeth Healthcare/KHSAA Girls’ Sweet 16 at BB&T Arena on Wednesday.
Rebecca Cook had 19 points, seven rebounds and three steals to lead Franklin County, which advanced in the state tournament for the first time since reaching the 1980 finals. The Flyers got a fight from the lower-ranked Wildcats, who jumped out to an 8-0 lead.
Coach Joey Thacker tempted fate by wearing the same outfit he wore in last year’s 52-32 state-tournament loss to Allen County-Scottsville, in which the Flyers never recovered from a slow start.
“I thought there was no way we could get off to two horrid starts like that again,” Thacker said. “ … But we did. This tie’s retired. I looked around to make sure the floor didn’t say Diddle Arena on it.”
The Flyers scrapped back into the game at the end of the first quarter, tying it 10-10 on Malaka Frank’s first bucket with 3:05 left. The Western Kentucky signee ended with eight points, six rebounds, three assists and one turnover.
She also had a team-high five turnovers for a Flyers squad that committed a season-high 16 giveaways. It forced 19 Shelby Valley turnovers but only came away with 17 points on those miscues; the Wildcats’ 13 points off turnovers nearly matched what’s usually a big advantage for Franklin County.
“We had to grind everything out in the halfcourt,” Thacker said “ … We turned them over 19 times but it was a very quiet 19 times.”
Franklin County came up with enough points despite its leading scorer, Princess Stewart, ending with two on 0-for-9 shooting. She got into early foul trouble — Thacker took the blame for trying to force the ball to her in a bad spot — and got into the scoring column with a pair of free throws with 1:09 to play.
But Cook had Stewart’s back. She was 8-for-10 from floor, including 2-for-2 from behind the three-point line. The Flyers didn’t play their best, she said, so it was nice to come away with a win and, ideally, enter the quarterfinals a bit less tight than they were in the first round. They’ll meet Campbell County, a 48-33 winner over Trimble County, in Friday’s afternoon session.
She credited the Flyers’ versatility for helping it shake off Stewart’s subpar offense.
“We can all play different positions, so if Princess is struggling someone else can step up and run the one and penetrate and get looks off of that,” Cook said.
Shelby Valley entered the season with lowered expectations after graduating five of its top six players but reached the Sweet Sixteen for the third time in four seasons behind senior star Lakyn Mullins, who ended her career with an 18-point, eight-rebound performance. She also had three blocks.
The Wildcats, who’d won 11 straight coming in, were ahead or within a single possession most of the first half before Franklin County ended on a 6-0 run. Shelby Valley drew to within 24-21 on Kyleigh Tackett’s bucket at the rim to open the third quarter, but the Flyers answered with a 9-0 run.
“I don’t think nobody gave us much of a chance to even compete down here,” Wildcats Coach Rodney Rowe said. “We started four young sophomores that had no varsity experience and they just competed. I’m so proud of these young kids.”
Girls’ Sweet Sixteen
At NKU’s BB&T Arena
Mercer Co. 68, Leslie Co. 39
Franklin Co. 47, Shelby Valley 39
Trimble Co. vs. Campbell Co., (n)
Holmes vs. Russell, (n)
Noon: Murray (33-1) vs. Manual (21-7)
1:30: Butler (27-5) vs. Bowling Green (29-4)
6:30: Elizabethtown (29-4) vs. Henderson Co. (18-9)
8: Owensboro Catholic (30-5) vs. Harlan (27-4)