LOUISVILLE - The execution was golden, but the ending was tarnished for the Bullitt East Lady Chargers on Saturday against Butler in the championship game of the Sixth Region Tournament at Bellarmine University Knight’s Hall.
For the second year in a row, coach Chris Stallings’ squad came up just short of reaching the promised land, falling 40-39 after rallying from a nine-point deficit to twice lead by a single point in the fourth quarter.
Bullitt East (24-9) shot nine percentage points better than the Bearettes from the field and had a 29-18 rebounding advantage, but the Lady Chargers suffered mightily at the free throw line, converting only 11 of 22 chances.
A year ago at the same point in the season, Bullitt East rallied to move ahead of Butler by a point in the fourth quarter only to have the Bearettes score the last six points of the contest to win 48-43. In 2010, Bullitt East was the favorite and struggled shooting the ball. This time around, it was Butler with the target on their back as the eighth-ranked team in the state with the Lady Chargers making the big run at the upset.
“We just felt like all year that we were the little big team that could,” Stallings said after emerging from the locker room and getting a hug and kiss from his wife. “We improved just so much and grew.
“Like I told our kids, it’s hard to beat ourselves up about it,” the veteran coach added. “It was just the little thing (free throw shooting) that was big tonight.”
Bullitt East was a much better free throw shooting team than 50 percent over the course of the season.
“We did 12 to 15 minutes of free throw shooting over the last month in practice and the last week we ended practice with free throws,” Stallings pointed out. “It’s not like we don’t put an emphasis on those.”
The Lady Chargers were 1-2 for the season after falling to Butler 65-42 back on Dec. 7 in Mount Washington.
In the end, the ball would just not spin correctly for the Lady Chargers. After trailing 30-21 with less than a minute remaining in the third quarter, Bullitt East rallied to take the lead with 4:46 remaining when junior Nikole Isabel hit a spinning jumper along the baseline to make it 34-33. After Butler answered with a basket by Aareon Smith, Lindey Young hit two free throws to again put Bullitt East up by a point.
Butler (27-4)then scored three of the next four points to go up 40-37, forcing Stallings to call a time-out at :34.6. The Lady Chargers ran an out of bounds play for Isabel and she got a good look at a three-pointer, but the ball spun out. In the melee for the rebound, Bullitt East got to inbounds the ball again.
This time the play was to Young inside and she was fouled as her shot spun around and out of the net with :16.5 remaining. Unfortunately, both free throws bounced out and there was a tie-up with a jump ball that gave the possession to the Lady Chargers at :13.9.
Bullitt East ran the inbounds play to point guard Emily Fryman who opted to drive to the basket before dishing off to Young who got the hoop as the clock ran to :06.2. On the inbounds play, Butler had the ball go through the hands of one player and right to senior Megan Cureton who was quickly fouled.
At :04.4, Cureton stepped to the line for the bonus. Her first shot came out and into the hands of Young for her 15th rebound. Bullitt East did not have a time-out. Young tried to make a long outlet pass to Isabel, but Butler stepped in front of Isabel and then dribbled out the clock.
“We didn’t start some quarters and halves well,” Stallings said. “But you can’t say a lot of negative things about the game.
“I was real proud of our team,” the coach added. “If anybody had said in December we would be within one point and one possession of going to state you would have wondered what they were seeing.
“The kids did a great job to believe in themselves,” the coach added. “We got good leadership from the seniors. We worked our tails off.”
For the second straight game, Bullitt East had just four players score in the contest. In fact, in the second half, freshman Taylor Blain was the only player to come off the bench. Both Fryman and senior Meredith Polson played the entire 32 minutes. Those time totals were by far the highest of the season for the red and gold.
Young was almost unstoppable around the basket. The senior made six of her eight shots and was also seven of ten at the foul line as she led all scorers in the contest with 19 points while she also pulled down the 15 rebounds. The Lady Chargers also got seven points each from Polson and Isabel while Fryman finished with six points.
The only player in double-digits for Butler was Smith with 12 points before she fouled out. Cureton finished with nine points.
Bullitt East started the game with a 6-5 advantage, but then went nearly four minutes without a basket as Butler surged ahead 15-6 after one quarter. The red and gold did go on a 7-0 run to open the second quarter and they were within 19-16 at halftime.
There was another poor start to the second half as Butler scored six straight points to take their biggest lead of the contest at 25-15. Isabel broke that run with her only three-pointer of the game. When Fryman hit the only other three-pointer that Bullitt East converted in the game, the Lady Chargers were within 33-32 with 6:17 to play and the setting for the big finish was set.
After the game during the Sixth Region awards ceremony, Bullitt East’s Young and Isabel were named to the All-Tournament team. They were joined on that team by Butler’s Heather Wheat, MacKenzie Martinez and Cureton.
Bullitt Central senior Valerie Terry was also named to the All-Tournament squad.
Sixth Region Tourney
At Bellarmine University
BULLITT EAST 39 (6-10-9-14) Emily Fryman 6, Nikole Isabel 7, Meredith Polson 7, Lindey Young 19.
BUTLER 40 (15-4-11-10) Cora Moore 4, Alexis Stallard 2, Danielle Lawrence 2, Heather Wheat 6, Aareon Smith 12, MacKenzie Martinez 5, Megan Cureton 9.
Before the basketball awards were presented after the game on Saturday, Jefferson County Public Schools presented a new trophy for the top cheerleading squad during the games.
That award for the Sixth Region went to Bullitt Central and they were presented a huge trophy for their efforts during their team’s two point loss to Holy Cross in the first-round. Just two weeks ago, Bullitt Central’s Co-Ed squad won the KAPOS State Championship.