Awards are nice. Awards and wins are nicer. Erin Boley, named the state’s Gatorade player of the year for the third year in a row earlier in the day, led Elizabethtown to an easy 63-36 win over Henderson County Thursday in the first round of the St. Elizabeth Healthcare/KHSAA Girls’ Sweet 16 at BB&T Arena.
Boley, a 6-foot-2 senior center committed to Notre Dame, scored 27 points on 11 of 13 shooting from the field, including two three-pointers, to power the state’s No. 1 team and Fifth Region champ over the Second Region’s Colonels.
The win sets up a rematch with second-ranked Butler out of the Sixth Region. Butler (28-5) beat Bowling Green (64-52) earlier in the afternoon session.
Elizabethown (30-4) routed the Bearettes 60-37 back on Dec. 23, but Panthers Coach Tim Mudd doesn’t expect to face the same team Friday night in the quarterfinals.
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She’s hard to handle. She can shoot the three like that and elevate, and she can come inside and muscle you around in there, too.
Henderson County Coach Jeff Hale on Erin Boley
“I really think that (Butler) is playing as the best team in the state, right now,” Mudd said. “I think they’ve had the hardest road here.
“We played them earlier this year, but I don’t put much stock in those games. … It’s going to be a lot harder for Erin tomorrow. We’re going to have to do a better job of screening, we’re going to have to do a better job of looking for her. They’re as talented as any team in the state.”
Boley had 19 of her points in a dominating first half that saw the Panthers break the game open.
“She’s hard to handle,” Henderson County Coach Jeff Hale said. “She can shoot the three like that and elevate, and she can come inside and muscle you around in there, too. So, it’s hard to stop.”
Up 14-6 at the start of the second quarter, Elizabethtown began showing it could play inside out and up and down. Boley hit a three-pointer to start a 11-2 run that also saw her get a steal and a fast-break layup. Boley then assisted with a kickout for Rachel Warden’s three-pointer that made it 25-10 midway through the second quarter.
“Obviously, this tournament means a lot to me, so I’m going to come out with everything have, every game,” Boley said. This is the Panthers’ third-straight appearance in the Sweet Sixteen. “We’ve learned from past years that it’s not everything. It doesn’t define our season to win a state championship, but we’re very excited about it.”
Henderson (18-10) had difficulty finding openings in the Panthers’ 2-3 zone. While occasionally finding a hole at the free throw line that got Mikayla Gilbert six of her eight first-half points, Henderson spent much of its time flinging the ball around the perimeter.
“I thought we did a real good job defensively,” Mudd said. “We did a really good job of keeping it out of the high post (even though) Gilbert got a couple of good looks on us early.”
Henderson’s top two scorers, Alisha Owens and Emma Lander, were held to four and two points, respectively.
“They’re quick up front and long inside,” Hale said. “You’ve got Boley covering the wing area … and (Taylor Thomas) that takes up some room and has some long arms to cover that (other) wing area, so it’s hard to get shots off out there.”
Late in the first quarter, Henderson passed the ball around for more than a minute before an errant pass gave Elizabethtown the ball back. The Panthers responded with a Kendall Pack layup seconds later to make it 12-6. Henderson worked hard to get Emma Lander a three-point try on the next possession, but it missed, setting up a Boley jumper to end the first frame.
“As time went on, they got back down the floor on us. They got to the boards on us and they didn’t miss shots,” Hale said.
Elizabethtown shot 58.5 percent from the field. Boley did a little of everything, going 3 for 5 at the free throw line, grabbing seven rebounds and adding an assist, a steal and two blocks. Taylor Thomas added 10 points for the Panthers. Gilbert led the Colonels with 12 points.
Girls’ Sweet 16
At NKU’s BB&T Arena
Murray 58, Manual 41
Butler 64, Bowling Green 52
Elizabethtown 63, Henderson Co. 36
Owensboro Catholic 69 vs. Harlan 49
Noon: Campbell Co. (25-9) vs. Franklin Co. (29-4)
1:30: Holmes (29-4) vs. Mercer Co. (30-5)
6:30: Murray (34-1) vs. Owensboro Catholic
8: Butler (28-5) vs. Elizabethtown (30-4)