BOWLING GREEN — The first game in the semifinals of the Houchens Industries/KHSAA Girls' Sweet Sixteen came down to a battle of wills.
Could the little school that favors a deliberate pace match up with the big-city team that likes to rock 'n' roll?
Saturday's answer was an emphatic yes as All "A" champion Covington Holy Cross knocked off Male 47-37 in E.A. Diddle Arena.
The Indians' 21st win in a row puts them in Sunday's finals. Holy Cross reached the semifinals with a stunning 41-40 victory over top-rated Elizabethtown.
"Wow, again!" Coach Kes Murphy said after dispatching Male. "That first half was tough. We were outside ourselves. We were not executing our defense. Were sluggish. We looked as though we were content having beaten E-town.
"Second half, we came out and it looked more like Holy Cross."
Deja Turner, who hit the game-winning shot against E-town, led Holy Cross (32-3) with 20 points. Ally Mayhaus added 12 points, 13 rebounds and four blocks.
And rebounds played a huge role, with the Indians owning the glass 37-28. Of those 37, 15 came on the offensive end. Holy Cross outscored the Bulldogs 24-12 in the paint and 13-7 on second-chance points.
Male (26-5), with only one senior in its starting lineup, was paced by Emilia Sexton with 12 points and four rebounds. I'Liyah Green had nine points, four rebounds and three blocks.
Despite not playing up to its usual standard early on, Holy Cross used a matchup zone to control the first-half tempo and take a 19-18 lead into the locker room.
Then the Indians used a 10-0 run in the third quarter to open a 31-20 lead.
Male never came closer than six points from there, and trailed by as many as 12.
"It seems as though we weren't supposed to be here," Murphy said. "People will ask me, 'How did you get your team to play as well as they are in a state championship game?' It's because we believe. It's what we worked for. We want our kids to dream big, and they do."
"You've got to give all the credit to Holy Cross," Male Coach Champ Ligon said. "They've got great players, they're well-coached. I knew it was going to be a really tough matchup for us because it's usually easier to slow a team down than speeding one up. We weren't able to turn them over, and they outrebounded us.
"If you don't rebound, it's hard to consistently run. I think we missed some shots we would usually make, too, which didn't help matters. But credit to them. ... I think you're looking at the state championship team. They may prove me wrong tomorrow, but it's going to take something special to beat them."