High School Basketball

Small-school champs survive first-round punch from Sweet Sixteen rookies

Photo slideshow: KHSAA Girls’ Sweet Sixteen first session at Rupp Arena

Owensboro Catholic defeated Bethlehem 53-47 and Scott County defeated Knott County Central 87-61 in the first round of the KHSAA Girls' Sweet Sixteen at Rupp Arena in Lexington.
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Owensboro Catholic defeated Bethlehem 53-47 and Scott County defeated Knott County Central 87-61 in the first round of the KHSAA Girls' Sweet Sixteen at Rupp Arena in Lexington.

Owensboro Catholic’s quest for a second state title this season almost ended before it started.

Despite losing the turnover battle and getting out-rebounded, the Aces survived their opening bout with Bethlehem, 53-47, in the 58th Girls’ KHSAA Sweet Sixteen at Rupp Arena on Wednesday.

BOX SCORE: Owensboro Catholic 53, Bethlehem 47

Junior Hannah McKay had 14 points and nine rebounds to lead Owensboro Catholic, which in January won the All “A” Classic state title, an unofficial, in-season title for Kentucky’s smallest schools.

Madelyn Lyon also had nine rebounds for the Aces, who played three girls measuring 6-foot or taller and two — Lyon and Ally Maggard — standing 5-11. Bethlehem played one 6-footer — sophomore Ella Thompson — and a 5-11 junior, Mikiah Livers-Bryant, but overwhelmed the Aces on the offensive glass — 18-8 — to finish with a 35-31 edge in rebounding.

That kept the game tight. Bethlehem, making its first appearance ever at the Sweet Sixteen, led 20-19 at halftime. It was 35-all after three quarters before the Aces used an 11-3 burst in the the final period to build a six-point cushion with about four minutes to play.

Bethlehem never trimmed it below four points the rest of the way. It had opportunities — Owensboro Catholic twice inside the final minute coughed the ball up and missed four free throws — but the Banshees missed two shots that would have cut it to one possession before turning the ball over on their last offensive trip.

See action from the 2019 KHSAA Girls' Sweet Sixteen state basketball tournament, which tipped off for the first time ever in Rupp Arena on Wednesday, March 13, 2019.

“They play extremely hard and I knew that,” Owensboro Catholic Coach Michael Robertson said. “And I figured we’d be in trouble if we didn’t rebound the ball. Sometimes we get a little lazy cause we’re so tall and big that we think the ball’s just gonna come to us. They had to gut it out, that fourth quarter.”

McKay, a junior who’s been offered by Murray State, Western Kentucky, Jacksonville State and Xavier, toward the end of Catholic’s game-changing run stepped on a defender’s foot and rolled her ankle. She re-entered the game soon after, and ultimately put in two free throws to ice the game with five seconds to play.

“I hope,” McKay said when asked if her foot would be fine for Catholic’s matchup with Scott County in Friday’s quarterfinals.

“We’ll do around-the-clock treatment on it,” Robertson said. “We’ve got her.”

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Bethlehem put up 22 more shots than the Aces — 57 to 35 — but made one fewer (15 to 16). Thompson and Amelia Hodges, also a sophomore, led the Banshees with 14 points apiece. Thompson had nine rebounds while Livers-Bryant brought down 10 and blocked three shots.

The Banshees upset Sweet Sixteen regular Elizabethtown in the 5th Region finals. Bethlehem Coach Jason Clark said the bar has risen for a program that before this season hadn’t played in the 5th Region Tournament since 2014.

“We know what it takes to get here and we’re just gonna start puttin’ in the work,” Hodges said.

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