For the third straight year, the Franklin County girls’ basketball team is headed to the Sweet 16.
The No. 8 Flyers used stifling defense and a huge night from senior Rebecca Cook to knock off Lafayette 54-37 in the finals of the 11th Region tournament at Eastern Kentucky University’s McBrayer Arena on Saturday night.
After both teams started slow, missing two free throws and three field goals apiece out of the gate, Tekiya Garr-Carter heated up for Lafayette, giving the Generals a 9-8 lead on her third bucket of the first quarter. But Cook responded with a three-pointer and Princess Stewart drained a pull-up NBA-range trey as the buzzer sounded to give the Flyers a 14-10 lead.
Eighth-grader Brooklynn Miles, who led all scorers with 15 points, said Stewart’s bomb kicked the Flyers into another gear.
“When she was dribbling down and I saw the clock I just knew she was gonna pull up,” Miles said. “She swished it and we all went crazy. We were ready to go.”
The waning moments of the second quarter proved to be a back-breaker for Lafayette. After a Caroline Bennett steal and fast-break layup got the Generals within 21-16, they had a chance to close the gap even further. Lafayette got out on the break after a rebound but an outlet pass got away and Kindall Talley corralled the loose ball, driving for a layup that began an 8-1 Flyers run to end the half. The period was punctuated by another buzzer-beater, this time a driving layup by Savannah Courtney. The Flyers led by 12 at halftime and Lafayette managed to cut the deficit to single digits just once the rest of the way.
Cook, who was named tournament MVP, scored 13 points on 4 of 8 field goal shooting to go along with 10 rebounds, seven blocks and three steals. Franklin County Coach Joey Thacker said her versatility makes her a nightmare for opponents.
“Rebecca’s length on defense means we can use her all over the floor, frontline or backline,” he said. “She can put it on the floor and she can make shots and she’s so versatile we can use her to cause people matchup problems. Teams are probably gonna have to guard her with a post and she can take advantage of that.”
The Flyers held Lafayette to 29 percent shooting, turned 16 turnovers into 19 points and outscored the Generals on fast-break points 10-0. They stifled Lafayette’s transition offense and packed the paint in the half court to force Generals star forward Kiara Pankins away from the basket.
Pankins, Lafayette’s all-time leading scorer and last year’s Lexington City Player of the Year, still managed a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds despite being the focus of the Franklin County defense.
Lafayette Coach Allison Denton said Pankins, who topped the 2,000-point and 1,000-rebound marks in her career as a General, will be remembered as one of the school’s all-time greats.
“I told her you’ve made your mark on this program, dry those tears because your best days are ahead of you,” Denton said. “She’s an even better person than a basketball player and it’s just been such a privilege to coach her.”
Xavier-commit Stewart, who finished with 11 points, said the Flyers are ready to make a run at the title this year.
“Our confidence is really high, but we’re humble. In the Sweet 16 we know everybody is good, including us. We’re ready to go get prepared and fight every single game,” she said.
Josh Sullivan; 859-231-3225
FRANKLIN CO. 54, LAFAYETTE 37
Franklin Co. (30-5) — Cook 13, Courtney 5, Talley 5, Stewart 11, Miles 15, Levarity 2, Thacker 3.
Lafayette (24-10) — Bennett 2, K. Pankins 10, DeBilzan 6, Garr-Carter 13, Abram 4, Goff 2.
Sweet Sixteen first round: Franklin County (30-5) vs. 4th Region winner
When: Thursday, 1:30 p.m.
Where: Highland Heights