Butler came out with a strong left hook against Franklin County in the opening quarter of the St. Elizabeth Healthcare/KHSAA girls’ Sweet 16 championship game. It delivered a knockout blow in the third quarter, on the way to a 62-36 victory, to bring the program’s fifth state basketball title back to Louisville.
The victory put Butler in rare company. It joined Laurel County and Ashland Blazer as the only schools to win five girls’ state basketball titles. Lexington Catholic and Sacred Heart have each won four. It was the second title in three years for Butler, which defeated Elizabethtown for the crown in 2014.
Jaelynn Penn poured in 21 points and grabbed 11 rebounds en route to tournament MVP honors for Butler. The junior, who has committed to Dayton, led the tournament in points (67), rebounds (25) and steals (11).
Any questions surrounding Butler’s energy level coming off Saturday’s late affair against a feisty Murray team were quickly put to rest. The Bearettes opened a 15-0 lead in the first period and led 19-3 by the end. Butler had more made field goals (8-for-16) than Franklin County shot attempts (1-for-7).
The Flyers shot just 4-for-15 in the second quarter but held Butler to a 2-for-12 mark and forced seven turnovers to get to within 10 points at halftime. That was with its two leading scorers, Princess Stewart and Rebecca Cook, being held to zero points in the first half.
“We just ran into a buzzsaw today,” Flyers Coach Joey Thacker said. “They shot the ball extremely well early and a couple open looks right off the bat didn’t go down for us and it kind of seemed to snowball.”
Penn said staying alert was key in Butler jumping out to a big lead. After missing the tournament last season, the Bearettes were undervalued statewide, she said.
“We felt like nobody was paying attention to us anymore so we had to prove that we were one of the best,” Penn said.
They left a lasting impression. Butler’s 26-point margin of victory was the largest in a girls’ title game since M.C. Napier defeated Highlands 88-56 in 1994.
Butler created more distance in the third quarter, opening on a 14-0 run to take a 38-14 lead and cruise down the stretch. Coach Larry Just said his team lost a bit of its focus at the end of the first half. The halftime speech was simple.
“From our side of things, it was reminding them, ‘This is what you do,’ ” Just said. “‘Just stay the course of what you do and you’re gonna like it when it’s over.’”
Only Micaiah Bowden and Allison Just graduate for the Bearettes, who will almost certainly enter next season as the favorite to repeat. Franklin County, on the other hand, loses five seniors — Anna Arrastia, Malaka Frank, Dasia Kilbourne, Sierra Newton and Lauren Willard — who led the revitalization of the program. This year, Thacker said, they helped liven up the community.
“I think they’ll be talked about for years to come and not all of that conversation will be just about basketball because they’re such good people,” Thacker said.
The Flyers will return Cook and Stewart along with fellow junior Savannah Courtney, who played big minutes throughout the season. One focus heading into next fall will be establishing a post identity, something the Flyers haven’t been able to do consistently. Thacker likes the pieces coming back to Franklin County, though.
“I think we’ll be faster, I think we’ll just be as deep and our skill, just from a natural progression point, will be better,” he said.
Josh Moore: 859-231-1307, @HLpreps
BUTLER 62, FRANKLIN CO. 36
BUTLER (31-5): Bowden 2-4 2-4 6, A. Just 3-7 0-0 7, Torrens 3-9 0-0 7, Jeffries 1-7 0-0 2, Penn 10-13 1-1 21, Kelly 0-0 0-0 0, Thomas 0-0 0-0 0, Cain 0-0 0-0 0, B. Just 0-0 0-0 0, Marshall 0-0 0-0 0, Goodlett 3-4 0-0 7, Wright 0-0 0-0 0, Lockhart 4-4 1-2 9, Lewis 0-4 3-4 3, Shabazz 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 26-52 7-11 62.
FRANKLIN CO. (31-5): Frank 1-3 2-4 4, Kilbourne 0-9 0-0 0, Stewart 3-14 2-2 10, Arrastia 1-7 1-2 4, Cook 0-3 0-2 0, Talley 0-0 0-0 0, Miles 4-8 1-2 9, Newton 0-0 0-0 0, Courtney 2-4 1-2 6, Jordan 0-0 0-0 0, Brunette 1-2 0-0 3, Levarity 0-0 0-0 0, Thacker 0-0 0-0 0, Willard 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 12-51 7-14 36.
Halftime—Butler 24-14. 3-Point Goals—Butler 3-7 (A. Just 1-2, Torrens 1-1,, Jeffries 0-2, Goodlett 1-2), Franklin Co. 5-26 (Kilbourne 0-4, Stewart 2-10, Arrastia 1-7, Cook 0-2, Courtney 1-1, Brunette 1-2). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—Butler 42 (Penn 11), Franklin Co. 28 (Stewart 6). Assists—Butler 16 (Penn 4), Franklin Co. 6 (Frank, Miles 2). Total Fouls—Butler 11, Franklin Co. 10. A—3,444.
MVP—Jaelynn Penn, Butler
Team—Erin Boley, Elizabethtown; Micaiah Bowden, Butler; Rebecca Cook, Franklin Co.; Malaka Frank, Franklin Co.; Jynea Harris, Holmes; Caroline Hayden, Owensboro Catholic; Lyric Houston, Mercer Co.; Janna Lewis, Butler; Seygan Robins, Mercer Co.; Mackenzie Schwarber, Campbell Co.; Princess Stewart, Franklin Co.; Macey Turley, Murray; Maddie Waldrop, Murray
Ultimate Teammate Award—Rachel Warden, Elizabethtown
Above and Beyond Award—Jennifer Merchant, Mercer Co.
Joe Billy Mansfield Award—Lily Ramey, Murray