After falling two games short last season, the Scott County girls’ basketball team is one win away from its first Sweet Sixteen appearance in eight years.
The Cardinals ran away from Paul Laurence Dunbar over the final three quarters, blitzing the Bulldogs 89-57 in the 11th Region tournament semifinals at Eastern Kentucky University’s McBrayer Arena on Friday.
It was a run-and-gun affair early as both teams pushed the pace. Scott County led by just two, 16-14, after the first quarter. But Cardinals’ freshman guard Morgan DeFoor took over in the second, seemingly getting to the bucket at-will. DeFoor scored 15 of her game-high 28 points before halftime as the Cardinals built a 40-24 lead heading into the locker room.
“Morgan gives us that shiftiness to get to the rim,” said Scott County Coach Steve Helton. “And then when her outside shot’s going you’ve got to make some decisions. Are you gonna play her three or are you gonna play her drive?”
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DeFoor burnt the Bulldogs on both fronts, knocking down three of Scott County’s eight three-pointers.
Scott County outscored Dunbar, 24-10, in the second quarter. The Cardinals kept their foot on the gas after intermission. Peyton Riddle’s three-pointer with three and a half minutes to go punctuated a 23-7 run that put Scott County ahead, 63-31. Riddle scored seven of her 24 points in the third period. The senior guard had six of Scott County’s 19 steals.
DeFoor said the Cards were determined to put Dunbar away early in the second half.
“The first four minutes it was key to come out and jump on them,” she said. “How we ended the first half, it just continued on to the second half.”
DeFoor said once the butterflies wore off it was business as usual for the Cards.
“I was feeling it, and with the bench coming on and the crowd, it just really helped (us) get into it,” she said. “There were some nerves in the beginning but when we got it we got it.”
Scott County’s press gave Dunbar fits the entire game. The Bulldogs turned it over 27 times, resulting in 36 points for the Cardinals.
They were determined to make life difficult for Dunbar star guard Mashayla Cecil, routinely double teaming her. Still, the Miss Basketball finalist was able to score 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting.
Cecil ends her high school career as Fayette County’s all-time leading scorer. She played a crucial role in turning around a Dunbar program that won just seven games three years ago, Coach Nick Runyon’s first season at the helm.
“This senior group has been a culture-changer,” said Runyon. “They’ve laid the foudation for these younger girls and I couldn’t be more proud of their effort. They come in and work hard every day and they’ve done everything we’ve asked of them for my three years. What else can you say? I’m just sad to see it end for them.”
Cecil hasn’t yet decided where she’ll play in college, but she has several offers on the table. Runyon knows she’s a sure-fire bet to be a success wherever she ends up.
“Whenever Shay makes her decision she’s gonna have a hell of a college basketball career,” he said.
Cecil said being part of Dunbar’s turnaround is a memory she’ll always cherish.
“It was a long process, but over these three years we’ve gotten so much better and we’re such a family.” she said. “Being part of this team has meant everything to me and I can’t thank my teammates enough.”