BERNHEIM - Heading into Thursday night's championship game of the Girls' Bullitt County Middle School Basketball Tournament, the Bernheim Lady Bruins had something that only one other local school has owned over the past 15 years - a championship banner.
Now they have two.
Rallying from a 22-19 halftime deficit, coach Tonya Cravens' Lady Bruins reversed a pair of regular season losses to the Mount Washington Lady Generals, coming out on top 41-39 in a hotly contested game into front of a boisterious crowd at Bernheim.
The tournament was sponsored by Arch L Heady and Son Funeral Home. In fact, Mount Washington had retired the previous trophy last year so it was a new traveling trophy that Bernheim was awarded on Thursday.
Over the past 15 years, Mount Washington has dominated girls' middle school basketball in the area. The lone exception came in 2001 when Bernheim beat the Lady Generals in the final.
"It was all about us preparing well and staying focused," Cravens said of her first title in her third season at the helm of the Lady Bruins.
Mount Washington had defeated Bernheim 52-43 and 45-32 during the regular season, but Bernheim came into the final confident after beating Eastside Middle School in the semifinal.
"I think we came into the game confident," Cravens said. "They prepared well this week and they thought we could stay with that team."
Cravens grew up in the area and played high school basketball at Bullitt Central when she was Tonya Jacobs. She knows as well as anyone how much the Lady Generals have dominated middle school basketball under head coach Christal Scott so it was easy to smile on Thursday after cutting down the net.
"Basically, we wanted to shut down their outside scorers," Cravens said. "We can stop number 45 (5-11 Kirsten Price), but we had to work to stop 21 (Nikole Isabel) and 12 (Sable Logsdon)."
Isabel finished with 12 points while Rachel Broughton had 11 points for the Lady Generals.
This will not be a one-year aberration for the Lady Bruins. Of the team's 41 points, only 17 were scored by eighth-graders. Bernheim was led in scoring by Kayla Riggs as the seventh-grader finished with 15 points. Sierra Minyard added eight points for the winners.
On Thursday, it looked like it would be Mount Washington's night when Broughton took an inbounds pass just over mid-court and then sank a three-pointer just before the halftime buzzer to give the Lady Generals a 22-19 advantage.
Mount Washington even pushed the lead to five points early in the second half, but then Bernheim rallied to lead 31-29 heading into the fourth quarter.
The Lady Bruins pushed the margin to 35-30 with an early surge in the final quarter, but Mount Washington answered with four free throws to get within 35-34 with 2:34 reamining. A free throw by Bernheim's Kristyn Harned and a basket by Riggs pushed the lead back to four points before Price scored for Mount Washington with 1:38 remaining.
Neither team scored until Price fouled out with 50 seconds remaining. Bernheim's Kaitlyn McKnight hit both free throws at that point to make it 40-36. The outcome seemed to be in the bag when Riggs made a steal and fed it to Kristen Collins who was fouled. She hit one free throw with 16 seconds remaining in the game.
Mount Washington's final push came when Isabel converted a three point play at :06. Despite Bernheim missing two free throws down the stretch, Mount Washington was not able to get a final shot off.
Both teams struggled mightily at the foul line. Bernheim was 18 of 28 for the game while Mount Washington was only 14 of 29.
The 41 points is a little above Bernheim's scoring average this season.
"Being aggressive did that," Cravens said. "We got to the free throw line a lot and got a lot fouls on them."
The Lady Bruins finished the season with a 15-7 record. Three of the losses came to Bullitt County foes.
Mount Washington finished the season with a 16-5 mark as they were undefeated against Bullitt County foes until the final game with Bernheim.
When her team hit the long three-pointer just before halftime, Scott felt it would turn the momentum in the game.
"I really did think that was going to be the turning point in the game," the veteran coach said. "That gave us a lift going into halftime.
You have to give Bernheim credit," Scott added. "They came back and battled. They hung right there with us. They took advantage of the chances they had. They were a better team tonight."
But it also forced Bernheim to focus on overcoming the sudden deficit.
"We just told them to get back in there and stay focused," Cravens said. "We still had a whole half to play."
Mount Washington streak of playing in the championship game is now pushing two decades.
"That was the goal our girls set," Scott said of getting to the final game. "This group has improved and matured from their sixth grade year. In the sixth grade I'm not so sure they were the third best team (in the county). They have come together to get better.
"We knew Bernheim was a good team and we played well," Scott noted. "Bernheim just played better. That's a complement to them."
Mount Washington had beaten Hebron 35-18 in the semi-finals.
Girls' Bullitt County
Middle School Championship
At Bernheim MS
BERNHEIM 41 (11-8-12-10) Tori Boston 5, Heather Elden 2, Kaitlyn McKnight 2, Sierra Minyard 8, Kristen Collins 5, Kristyn Harned 1, Haley Johns 2, Emily Ratliff 1, Kayla Riggs 15. Chasity Hodge, Autumn Ferrell, Kelsey Homles, Courtney Riggs, Emily Gould, Chelsey Fogerty, Whitney Veatch, Megan Terry, Brooke Argenbright.
MOUNT WASHINGTON 39 (6-16-7-10) Kaylee McClure 2, Nikole Isabel 12, Rachel Broughton 11, Kirsten Price 9, Sara Stevens 5. Sable Logsdon, Carly Coulter, Ashley Hopper, Jamie Lutes, Erin Smallwood, Katie Stallings, Alex Miller, Cady Cornell, Kaleigh Sharpe.