BOWLING GREEN — When star guard Kendall Noble crumpled to the Diddle Arena floor in the first quarter, it looked as though Perry County Central's season would end right there.
But the Commodores, who trailed by as many as 10 points, had a chance to beat Butler in the final seconds. The Bearettes held on, however, and pulled out a 42-40 victory in the first round of the Houchens Industries/KHSAA Girls Sweet Sixteen.
"It probably wasn't the prettiest basketball game played, but that's OK," Butler Coach Larry Just said. "These girls stepped up and made some plays they had to make, made some shots they had to make and we're going to move on."
The Bearettes advance to face Marion County in the quarterfinals.
Perry Central shot two contested layups in the final seven seconds, including one by standout forward Kayla Rankin, but they both clanked off the rim.
Just said the plan was to allow Central to take an inside shot to tie it, but Butler didn't want to give the Commodores a chance to win it in regulation with a three-pointer.
"We almost wanted it so bad we couldn't get it in," Coach Randy Napier said of the Commodores (27-4), who had their 13-game win streak halted.
"I've been here a lot of times," he continued. "It's hard to imagine being this proud of a team that didn't win, but I am. I can't remember ever having a team play this hard with this much heart and have to overcome so much."
Butler, which won its sixth straight, was led by Heather Wheat's 14 points, five rebounds and five steals.
Wheat's layup off a steal with two minutes to go in the third quarter gave Butler (28-4) its biggest lead of the game, 34-24, before the Commodores came back with a 12-3 run fueled by consecutive three-pointers from senior Alyssa Pratt.
"When Kendall went down it was just kind of a shock," said Pratt, who had 11 points for Central. "We wanted to do it for her and our fans and coach. ... We put so much heart into it. We didn't want it to be our last game."
Central grabbed a 40-39 lead on a Rankin putback with 2:26 to play before Aareon Smith's putback put Butler up for good.
"It was a gut check and our kids made the necessary plays," Just said.
Rankin had 14 points and 12 rebounds for Central.
Noble, one of the top contenders for Miss Basketball next season, re-entered the game during the third quarter, but she collapsed to the ground again the first time she tried to push off.
Napier said it's not clear what her injury is.
"It's not good, but we don't know," he said. The trainer told him Noble's knee stability was still there and that she was cleared if she wanted to give it a go.
Noble asked to go back in.
"She wanted to try," he said. "In hindsight, I probably shouldn't have even tried it. ... In retrospect, she wasn't able. It's clear she wasn't able."