SHEPHERDSVILLE - In the pre-game scouting reports, the Girls’ 24th District championship game on Thursday was a classic battle between full-court and half-court styles, inside against outside, as well as strength versus quickness.
On the court, it turned out to be more a case of the strong will survive. Following the game plan to perfection, the Bullitt East Lady Chargers dominated play from the beginning, stunning Bullitt Central 57-43 in the rubber match between the two rivals this season.
Bullitt East made it a half-court game from the start and Bullitt Central was never able to force their will on the Lady Chargers. The Lady Cougars converted just three three-pointers in the game and did not have a fast-break basket.
Just two nights earlier, in the semi-final win over Southern, Bullitt Central had become the highest scoring team in the program’s history. On Thursday, the Lady Cougars scored just 11 points in the first half, trailed by 15 points and then were never able to get closer than 13 points (45-32) in the second half.
Both Bullitt East and Bullitt Central will now advance to the Girls’ Sixth Region Tournament. Each of the teams will play on Tuesday at Atherton.
The 24th District title was the third in a row for Bullitt East and came in a season in which the team started the season 1-2 including a 57-50 loss to Bullitt Central in Mount Washington.
“We knew it would take a lot of hard work,” Bullitt East senior center Lindey Young said of shaking those early losses and getting to this point. “We knew we had to move forward and do what we do.”
Young was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player after scoring 17 points and pulling down 14 rebounds in the final.
In the rematch against Bullitt Central a month ago, Lady Cougar guard Keoka Hilliard had connected on six three-pointers, but Bullitt East pulled out a 56-51 victory. The final instructions from Bullitt East head coach Chris Stallings to his team on Thursday was to close out on the outside Bullitt Central shooters.
“They hit a lot of threes the last time we played them,” Bullitt East senior forward Meredith Polson said. “Hilliard had like six. We shut her down and kept them off the glass and we kept our cool.”
The Bullitt East seniors all played on the district championship team a year ago and that team went on to reach the final game of the Sixth Region Tournament, but there is also something extra special about winning titles during your senior season.
“Oh yeah,” Polson said with a big smile. “I just felt like this was my last time. I left it out on the floor and so did the other girls. It’s the last time we’ll play here.”
“For sure,” said Young. “We’ll always remember this. This the last time we’ll play out here so it is good to go out with a bang.”
The ‘bang’ that fans heard on Thursday was the Bullitt East defense locking down Bullitt Central in the first half. The Lady Chargers led 13-6 after the first quarter and then it was 26-11 at halftime.
After the Lady Cougars pulled within 9-6 late in the first quarter, Bullitt East scored 15 straight points to take control of the contest. The last six of those points came on back-to-back three-pointers from Nikole Isabel.
Bullitt Central did not make a three-pointer in the first half in a paltry six attempts.
“We felt like all year that if they blew hot it would be a long night for a lot of teams,” Bullitt East head coach Chris Stallings said of the Lady Cougars. “They shoot it well. We really respect how explosive they can be on offense.
“Our kids did an excellent job getting back in our transition defense,” the coach added. “I thought we did a great job rebounding the basketball. That was a key. If you give them second and third shots, they will knock those down.”
For the game, Bullitt Central (15-12) made 15 of 34 shots inside the arc, but coach Bryan Bates’ team was only three of 18 on three-pointers. The Lady Cougars’ only life in the game came late in the third-quarter when senior Ashleigh Pollard drained a pair of three-pointers to pull the maroon and gray to within 37-23 and forced Stallings to call a time-out with 1:18 left in the quarter.
Bullitt East (22-8) answered with a basket from Polson to end the frame and Bullitt Central never regained that spark.
“We just talked about where she was and to make sure we cover that spot,” Stallings said of the time-out he took after the two shots by Pollard. “We lost her in that corner. We wanted to stay out on Hilliard. We did a good job finding her.”
Hilliard’s only three-point basket came midway through the fourth quarter when the game was already out of reach.
This was not the performance that Bates was expecting.
“It’s frustrating,” he said as he sat in his office 30 minutes after the loss. “We had the district at our place and we didn’t win.
“It was a half-court game and that is where they excel and we don’t,” the veteran coach added. “They got the pace they wanted. That was the huge difference in the game.”
Bates knows that Bullitt East is ranked second in the Sixth Region for a reason.
“It was a combination of Bullitt East being a good team and us not attacking their defense in the first half,” Bates pointed out. “We did not get into the lane off the dribble. Plus, we didn’t rebound.”
Bullitt Central had made big second-half rallies in each of the two previous meetings of the season between the two teams. They did not think the game was out of reach when it was 26-11 at halftime.
“We didn’t quit and that is a good sign,” Bates said as the season is not over yet. “We were frustrated. I don’t know if we played a game this year when we had 11 points at halftime. We just didn’t attack on offense.”
Young and Polson had 25 rebounds between the two of them while Bullitt Central only had 20 rebounds in the entire game. Bullitt East finished with 15 offensive rebounds.
Young led all scorers in the game with her 17 while the Lady Chargers got 14 points each from Polson and Isabel.
The only double-digit scorer for Bullitt Central was junior Seaera Minyard with 13 points.
24th District Tourney
At Bullitt Central
BULLITT CENTRAL 43 (6-5-12-20) Ashleigh Pollard 6, Kayla Riggs 4, Keoka Hilliard 5, Seaera Minyard 13, Selena Yunt 7, Kaitlyn McKnight 8.
BULLITT EAST 57 (13-13-13-18) Emily Fryman 6, Ashley Duvall 2, Nikole Isabel 14, Whitney Stansbury 1, Rachel Broughton 2, Meredith Polson 14, Lindey Young 17.