The principals involved have changed, but the mission remains the same for Franklin County girls’ basketball team: a region title.
It started its latest title defense off on the right note with an 52-47 win over Henry Clay in the first round Tuesday night at Eastern Kentucky University’s McBrayer Arena. The Flyers will play in their fifth straight region semifinal Friday night against either Lafayette or Madison Central.
Franklin County graduated three seniors who were key contributors during its stretch of three straight titles from 2015 to last season. Also absent from this unit is Brooklynn Miles, who got big minutes as a middle-schooler over the last two seasons but did not play in what would have been her freshman season.
That left Kindall Talley — who averaged 9.4 points as a junior — as the most significant holdover from last year’s squad that reached the state finals. She looked the part of a seasoned veteran while leading the Flyers with 20 points and eight rebounds in Tuesday’s victory.
Becoming the team’s de facto leader was “different” but Talley, who joined the 1,000-point club in the first round of the 41st District tournament, has embraced the role.
“I’ve had a lot of people to look up to and I’m just trying to fill their shoes and keep the tradition going and just do anything I can to get the win,” Talley said. “It’s about Franklin County; not the name on the back but the name on the front.”
Head Coach Joey Thacker had high praise for Talley.
“If we had a fantasy draft and I had to start from 15 years ago, I’d make sure she was one of my picks of all the 15 teams we’ve had at Franklin County,” Thacker said. “I’m not so positive she wouldn’t be the first pick just because of everything she brings to the table. She’s valued Franklin County basketball from the time she was old enough to know what it was.
“ … She rebounds better than you think, she handles it better than you think and she’s better than people think.”
Franklin County ended Henry Clay’s season for the fourth straight year. Oriona Woods led the Blue Devils (19-12) with 17 points and 10 rebounds. Cheyenne Jones had a game-high 17 rebounds for Henry Clay.
The Flyers jumped out to an 8-2 advantage and never trailed in the contest. Thacker didn’t expect his girls to play so well out of the gate.
“I was surprised that we got off to the start down here that we did with so many kids starting in this environment for the first time, and I was surprised that they started as lethargic that they did defensively, but we’ll take it,” Thacker said.
Henry Clay trailed by 11 points at the start of the fourth quarter but was within one or two possessions for much of the contest.
“We let ’em hang around because we didn’t rebound and because we didn’t guard strong-hand penetration,” Thacker said. “You’ve gotta do those two things this time of year because you win and lose games in the middle of the lane.”
Patience Laster, an eighth-grader, matched Talley with eight rebounds for Franklin County. Eighth-grader Nevaeh Carter had four points and five rebounds off the bench. That duo was part of a team that won a middle-school state championship in the fall.
“Nevaeh played really well against them the first time, and outside of missing some free throws down the stretch she played well tonight. She’s hard to keep out of the lane and she’s got good vision,” Thacker said. “And Patience has just been our workhorse all year. Patience doesn’t force issues but she knows when it’s time to go make a play.”
Franklin County 52, Henry Clay 47
Henry Clay (19-12) — Braxton Price 7, Cheyenne Jones 9, Oriona Woods 17, Alexis Lutz 3, Kiya Thompson 11
Franklin County (19-14) — Josie Thacker 6, Patience Laster 9, Kindall Talley 20, Julia Welsh 6, Emily Jordan 5, Nevaeh Carter 4, Samareah Levarity 2