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FRANKFORT - The Bullitt Central Lady Cougars have often wanted to run and gun under head coach Bryan Bates.
Now, this season, the Lady Cougars are running and gunning and more importantly, winning
Bullitt Central picked up its most impressive tournament title in a number of years on Wednesday, when the maroon and gray capped a strong three day run with a 53-41 victory over an Australian International Team in the championship game of the Lady Wolverine Holiday Classic at Western Hills High School in Frankfort.
While the win on New Year's Eve (the game was played at 3 p.m. so that the teams would not be on the road that night) was wonderful, the Lady Cougars had more to celebrate earlier in the week.
Play started on Monday with the Lady Cougars securing an impressive 61-57 victory over a South Oldham squad that had won three of its four previous games including reaching the championship game of their own tournament just before Christmas.
Bullitt Central then took a huge step forward on Tuesday as perhaps for the first time ever, the Lady Cougars beat Central Hardin 43-39. The Lady Bruins were 8-2 at the start of the game and were coming off a title in the Hopkins County Central Holiday Classic.
That led into the win on Wednesday that left Bates' team with a 9-3 record. One loss came to one of the top teams in Indiana (Jeffersonville) while another came to last season's Kentucky state runner-up (Franklin-Simpson). There was also a setback to Bullitt East, but all three of those teams are well above .500 at this point in the season.
"It was a very good week," Bates said after the team had secured the big trophy. "It's always good to win games and tournaments."
Against the touring team from Australia, Bullitt Central did what it has done in so many games this season -- connect on three-pointers. The hot-shooting pushed the maroon and gray ahead 17-8 in the first quarter. Bullitt Central connected on a trio of three-pointers n the first five minutes of the game including two by the team's only senior, Lindsay Hester.
The Lady Cougars then scored the first six points of the second frame to go up 23-11 and despite one drought midway through the quarter, the maroon and gray finished with an 8-3 surge to lead 33-20 at halftime.
When Bullitt Central opened the second half with a three-pointer by Keoka Hilliard and a basket by Valerie Terry they had the game well in hand. The high-water mark came when Hester and Hilliard hit back-to-back three-pointers midway through the fourth quarter that made the lead 53-33. The Wolves scored the last eight points of the game, but it didn't matter by that point.
Qualeatha Bennett had one of her best games of the season as she finished with 19 points and more than a dozen rebounds. She played out front on the Lady Cougars' 1-3-1 defense and the junior forced a number of turnovers that she turned into easy baskets.
"For the first three quarters I thought we played well and shot well," Bates said. "Then in the fourth we got a little tired. We had to work hard to get to the final. That took a lot out of us."
Bullitt Central was outscored in the fourth quarter of each of the last two games in the tournament.
"We didn't score in the fourth quarter," the coach noted. "I don't know what it was. Maybe we were a little tired and maybe some nerves. If we can just finish off games instead of being tentative, we'll be a very, very hard team to beat."
The Lady Cougars did have a big fourth quarter rally in the first game of the tournament when they beat South Oldham 57-61. The maroon and gray trailed 45-39 entering the fourth quarter before getting the hot-hand.
In the final frame, Bates' team connected on five of the nine three-pointers that they converted in the win. Hester had three of her four bombs down the stretch while Hilliard converted on two of the four long shots she had in the win.
Bullitt Central ended up outscoring the Lady Dragons 22-12 over the final eight minutes of the game.
Hester led all scorers in the game with 23 points while Hilliard, a sophomore, scored 14 points.
That set up the confrontation with Central Hardin, one of central Kentucky's top programs over the past 15 years under head coach Terry Buckles.
Bullitt Central trailed early in that game by as many as five points, but the defense then held the Lady Bruins to six points in the second quarter and only two in the third frame as they surged ahead 30-19.
The finish was not as smooth as Bates would have liked as Central Hardin outscored the Lady Cougars 19-13. The game could have been even closer if the Lady Bruins had not made just three of eight free throws in the fourth quarter.
"We hadn't beaten Central Hardin in a long time," Bates said. "They are a very good team. That was a huge win for us."
Hester, who was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player, had five three-pointers in the victory. The senior had 12 three-pointers in the three games in Frankfort.
Hester again led Bullitt Central as she had over half of her team's points with a 22 point explosion. No other Lady Cougar scored more than five points.
At the end of the tournament, Hester was named the event's Most Valuable Player. She was joined on the All-Tournament team by Bennett, Hilliard and Wood.
Bullitt Central returned to action on Saturday against Ballard in the Bullitt County Challenge at Bullitt East. The Lady Cougars will play at home for only the second time this season on Tuesday when they take on Seneca.
Lady Wolverine Holiday Classic
At Western Hills HS
BULLITT CENTRAL 61 (18-9-12-22) Lindsay Hester 23, Qualeatha Bennett 8, Janie Baumgardner 4, Keoka Hilliard 14, Valerie Terry 4, Logan Wood 4, Rebecca Farber 4.
SOUTH OLDHAM 57 (15-16-14-12) Whitfield 18, McGriffin 7, Sharver 3, Reynolds 14, Haysley 3, Bray 2, Dye 4, Wright 2, Hensley 4.
BULLITT CENTRAL 43 (6-12-12-13) Lindsay Hester 22, Qualeatha Bennett 4, Janie Baumgardner 4, Keoka Hilliard 5, Valerie Terry 1, Logan Wood 5.
CENTRAL HARDIN 39 (11-6-2-19) Hitch 13, Harper 8, Hughes 1, Frettz 8, Krupinski 6, Stanton 3.
BULLITT CENTRAL 53 (17-16-12-8) Lindsay Hester 13, Qualeatha Bennett 19, Keoka Hilliard 10, Valerie Terry 8, Logan Wood 3.
AUSTRALIA INTERNATIONAL TEAM 41 (11-9-11-10) Lee 9, Carey 3, Wellsford 10, Lyle 6, Alim 4, Raftery 9.