LOUISVILLE - The Bullitt East Lady Chargers learned they still have some work to do to run with the top team in the Sixth Region and the state of Kentucky.
Facing off against Iroquois on Tuesday, the Lady Chargers fell behind by 17 points in the first half before rallying to within 46-39 a minute into the fourth quarter. That was as close as the Lady Chargers could get as the state’s top-ranked team held on for a 62-52 decision.
While the game was competitive throughout the second half, both coaches could point to the fact that neither squad had played a game for at least ten days. In fact, both teams were out of the gym for four days the previous week. Bullitt East was allowed to practice the day before this game, but Tuesday was the first day back in school for the players on both teams.
Iroquois had its schedule wiped out for that week when the Girls’ Louisville Invitational Tournament was cancelled because of the bad weather.
“Lord no we didn’t do anything on Iroquois,” Bullitt East head coach Chris Stallings said of the first practice after the break. “We were just glad to get back in the gym. This was a big game, but in the big scheme we’ll get another shot at them. We spent all of that time on us.”
Iroquois (18-1) is a senior-laden team that has reached at least the state semi-finals in two of the past three seasons. Coach Al Northington’s team came into this game with only one loss (to Manual) and has been ranked as the top team in the state all season.
The Lady Raiders looked that good and more early in the game as a quick early 17-1 run pushed them ahead 24-8 after the first quarter. With some quick baskets, Iroqouis extended the margin to 30-13 and at 32-15 before Bullitt East scored the last four points of the half to get within 34-22.
Everything Iroquois does is done quickly. The Lady Raiders have no starters taller than 5-9, but they might be the quickest team ever. Even without forcing turnovers, Northington’s team got rebounds and beat Bullitt East to the other end for lay-ups.
“I felt like the girls gave great effort after the first four minutes,” Stallings said after the game. “That was from not being in the gym. It took a while to get our legs under us.
“I’m not going to take anything away from them,” the coach added. “They are extremely talented.”
The home team got the first two baskets of the second half to push the margin back out to 16 points before Bullitt East started cutting into the margin. Back-to-back baskets by Jackie Stevens pulled Bullitt East within 40-31 and twice the Lady Chargers got good looks at the basket, but could not get the ball to fall.
That surge ended when Iroquois’ Adia Mathis, who will be playing at the University of Kentucky next season and is a leading contender for Miss Basketball honors this season, hit a jumper in the lane. By the end of the quarter, the Lady Raiders were back on top 46-34.
Bullitt East started the fourth quarter with a bang with a basket by Kayla Thacker and then a three-point play by Jaime Simpson at the 7:09 mark that cut the margin to 46-39. Iroquois answered with six straight points, but then Bullitt East strung together hoops by Thacker, Jessica Philpott and Shelby Romine, but again the Lady Chargers could get no closer over the final three minutes of the contest.
Iroquois came into this game with five players averaging at least nine points an outing. That was just about the way it worked out as Adia Mathis finished with 13 points while twin-sister Asia Mathis had 12. The Lady Raiders then got ten points each from Meka Birdsong, Kayla Hickman and Carman Talbot.
Thacker led Bullitt East with 19 points and the Lady Chargers also got ten points from Shelby Romine.
Bullitt East has not beaten Iroquois since joining the Sixth Region four seasons ago. Each of the past two seasons the Lady Raiders have ended Bullitt East’s season in the first-round of the Sixth Region Tournament.
The Lady Chargers played at Bullitt Central last Friday and the red and gold will be back in action on Monday when they travel to Holy Cross. That game will be played on Dixie Highway. Some early Bullitt East schedules incorrectly gave that game as being at home.
On Friday, Bullitt East will celebrate homecoming when North Bullitt comes to town.
BULLITT EAST 52 (8-14-12-18) Jaime Simpson 5, Jessica Philpott 2, Chelsey Smith 2, Nikole Isabel 2, Shelby Romine 10, Kayla Thacker 19, Lindey Young 2, Jackie Stevens 4, Samantha Johnson 6.
IROQUOIS 62 (24-10-12-16) Asia Mathis 12, Birdsong 10, Taylor 3, Adia Mathis 13, Hickman 10, Talbot 10, Scott 4.