The young Titans refused to make it easy for Franklin County. After digging an 11-point hole early in the fourth quarter, Mercer County steadily chipped away at the Flyers lead and went ahead 48-46 with a pair of free throws from Lexy Lake.
But experience paid off in the end for Franklin County, as the Flyers’ seniors buckled down and took control in the final few minutes to knock off Mercer County 55-51 in the semifinals of the KHSAA Sweet 16 at Northern Kentucky University’s BB&T Arena and send the school to its first girls’ state championship game since 1980.
A 13-0 run in the fourth quarter, during which point guard Lyric Houston scored five of her 12 points, gave Mercer County its first lead since early in the second quarter.
Dasia Kilbourne hit two free throws to even it up for the Flyers on the next possession. After a layup by Princess Stewart pushed Franklin County back ahead by two, Coach Joey Thacker called a timeout and the typically soft-spoken Kilbourne got after her team in the huddle.
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“From the time she’s been with us in the sixth grade, she’s kind of been our silent assassin,” Flyers Coach Joey Thacker said of Kilbourne. “Dasia never says a word, and when she huddled them at the top of the key, we were gonna win, or somebody was gonna be in a fistfight. When our seniors speak ... you listen. When they called that little pow-pow, there was no doubt in my mind who was gonna win that game.”
Kilbourne, who signed with Georgetown College, had 15 points on 5-of-9 shooting to go with six rebounds. Stewart, Franklin County’s top scorer this season and one of two starters who will return as seniors next year, had a game-high 17 points along with seven rebounds. Senior Rebecca Cook added 10 points while pulling down a game-high 15 rebounds. Five of those boards and four of those points, along with two of her four blocks, came in the frantic final 2 1/2 minutes.
Mercer County looks to be a serious threat for the next few years. The Titans will lose just one senior, Madeline Bartley, and return all five starters, including leading scorer Seygan Robins, a sophomore who already has a scholarship offer from the University of Kentucky.
Robins had a tough night after scoring 21 points in a quarterfinal victory over Holmes. Against the Flyers, she went 3-for-12 from the field, including 0-6 from the perimeter, for nine points.
“Seygan had a frustrating game,” Titans Coach Chris Souder said. “She was pretty upset but I told (the team) in the locker room, ‘We’re not here if it wasn’t for Seygan.’ We all know that. But the type of kid she is, this’ll burn in her. She’ll let it drive her.”
Sophomore Emma Souder said the young Titans’ taste of success this season will motivate them to pursue a state championship for years to come.
“We have over 200 teams and to be one of the final four is really special, and we intend to do the same thing the next few years.”
Added sophomore Emma Davis, “It’s been really special and we have to make it back the next couple of years, and win.”
Butler holds off Murray
Butler 68, Murray 58: After building a 39-24 lead with five minutes left in the third quarter, Butler withstood a furious charge from the Tigers to survive in the second semifinal of the night and advance to the state championship game against Franklin County.
Murray got within two points three times in the final three minutes, but Butler hit 10 straight foul shots and picked off two Tigers passes in the final 90 seconds.
Janna Lewis led the Bearettes with 16 points. Jaelynn Penn added 12 points and nine rebounds.
Four Tigers scored in double figures, including Macy Turley, who had a game-high 17 points, and Lexi Mayes with 15.
Franklin County vs. Butler
What: Sweet Sixteen championship
When: 2 p.m.
Where: BB&T Arena, Northern Kentucky University