Franklin County blew a 10 point fourth quarter lead, rallied from behind to force three overtimes and survived its opening game in the St. Elizabeth Healthcare/KHSAA Girls’ Sweet Sixteen, 72-67, over Russell County on Thursday afternoon.
Kindall Talley, a junior guard who tied for the No. 7 Lady Flyers’ team lead with 20 points, hit four straight free throws at the end of the third extra frame to seal the victory over the 4th Region champion. Franklin County’s Princess Stewart also scored 20 points, including buckets to tie the game at the end of first and second overtimes for the 11th Region champion.
“I was just real proud of our ability to make big shots,” said Franklin County Coach Joey Thacker, who estimated his nephew got in two naps during the marathon matchup. “There were several times where we really had our backs against the wall, and we had some kids step up and make plays.”
Up 47-36 after three quarters, Franklin County (31-5) tried to milk the clock as the fourth began, dribbling out several seconds on each possession, but as Russell County extended its defense, Franklin County rushed into several mistakes, including three turnovers and a charge. They also sent Russell County to the line by fouling after their misses.
“We just kind of got back on our heels and we didn’t play real smart basketball at that time,” Thacker said.
Down 10 with just less than six minutes to play, Russell County (26-9) scored 11 unanswered thanks to the miscues. Senior forward Kaitlyn Coffey scored eight points in the run. She finished with a game-high 21 points.
“This team has a special trait and it’s ‘don’t quit,’” Russell County Coach Craig Pippen said. “We battle, peck, claw, bite and do whatever we’ve got to do to keep games close when we’re down.”
After Flyers point guard Brooklynn Miles missed the front end of two consecutive one-and-one free throw chances, the last with less than a minute left, Coffey was fouled by Stewart and calmly made two free throws to give the Lady Lakers a 51-50 lead at the 0:45 mark. It was the Lady Lakers’ first lead since they were up 7-6 midway through the first period.
On the next possession, Franklin County senior Rebecca Cook fought through a double-team on the baseline and was fouled with nine seconds left with a chance to win it. But her second shot rimmed out leaving a 51-51 tie. Russell County attempted to push the ball up the floor quickly, but an illegal screen at midcourt gave the Lady Flyers the ball back with three seconds left. Franklin County couldn’t get off a shot, setting up the first of three overtimes.
“To blow the lead kind of set all of us back,” Stewart said. “We can’t point fingers at anyone. We just have to point them at ourselves. … Our mindset was just ‘we weren’t giving up.’”
In the first overtime, Russell County sophomore Addison Loy hit a three-pointer for a 54-51 lead. But Franklin County answered as Miles, an eighth-grader who had just missed two key free throws at the end of regulation, hit a three-pointer from the right wing to tie it, 54-54 with 2:57 left.
Russell County pushed the lead back to three points on a Coffey free throw and a Madelyn Preston layup at the 1:35 mark. Miles made one of two free throws to make it 57-55 with a minute left. It was then Coffey’s turn to miss two potentially game-clinching free throws on the fifth foul by Cook. The misses gave the Flyers the ball down two with 30 seconds left.
“Obviously it hurts when you have Rebecca go out because she’s such a big part of our team,” Talley said. “But there’s always going to be the ‘next man up’ and somebody’s got to step up and make a play. We were trying to get the momentum back, but basically, we just weren’t ready for it to end yet.”
Stewart, a senior Xavier recruit, got the ball in the left corner and launched a three-pointer for the win, but it rimmed out. The rebound was slapped off a Russell defender giving Franklin County the ball with 10.6 left. After a timeout, Stewart got the ball at the top of the key and turned the corner around two defenders for a layup that tied it, 57-57, and forced a second overtime.
“The play broke out and I saw an open gap, so I just took it,” Stewart said.
Again, Russell County went up by three, 64-61, on a Coffey layup with 1:43 to play in the second overtime. But again, Franklin County clawed back. Talley made one of two free throws to cut the lead to 64-62 with 1:10 left. And the Flyers picked up their defensive pressure full court. A Savannah Courtney steal gave the Flyers the ball back with less than a minute left.
Desperate to take the lead or tie the game, a Talley three-pointer missed and fell to Courtney who missed the put-back. Then Miles grabbed the offensive board and made another attempt that also drew iron and sent players sprawling to the floor for that rebound. Out of the pileup Miles shuffled the ball to Stewart who emerged wide open at the right elbow and rattled in a 15-footer to tie the game at 64-64 with 30 seconds left, ultimately forcing the third overtime.
“I think these kids are used to winning,” Thacker said. “And you can’t talk them into losing as much as we try to talk ourselves into it. The last thing we put on the board in our keys to the game is ‘You don’t beat you.’ We tried a couple of times really hard … But I just feel like they’ve always won. They’re used to winning. And that counts for so much this time of year.”
Girls’ Sweet Sixteen
At Northern Kentucky University
Henderson Co. 63, Knott Central 53
Franklin Co. 72, Russell Co. 67 (3OT)
Simon Kenton vs. Paintsville, (n)
Holmes vs. Grayson Co., (n)
Noon: Butler vs. Murray
1:30 p.m.: Clark Co. vs. Mercer Co.
6:30 p.m.: Franklin Co. vs. Simon Kenton-Paintsville winner
8 p.m.: Henderson Co. vs. Holmes-Grayson Co. winner