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Lady Eagles apply pressure, get three-peat

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23rd District Girls' Basketball Tournament

By Thomas Barr

 OKOLONA - When you talk about pressure, don't talk about it from the perspective of North Bullitt Lady Eagle coach Amber Courtney.

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Her team felt no pressure in trying to win its third straight 23rd District basketball title.

Her team didn't feel the pressure this season as it was the "hunted" and not the "hunter."

The only "pressure" felt on Thursday night in the championship game against Bullitt Central.

It was that relentless defensive pressure applied by the Lady Eagles that led North Bullitt to another step to its ultimate goal.

Shaking off a slow start, North Bullitt had too much defense for the Lady Cougars in winning 71-48.

Along the way, both teams may have lost key players for their Sixth Region openers on Monday.

At the end of the first quarter, Bullitt Central coach Kyle Roach felt very good.

The game was tied at 7 after the first eight-minute quarter.

The team's primary ball handler Lexi Graham was beating the North Bullitt press.

But the one thing that Roach couldn't control was the foul situation.

By midway through the second quarter, three starters were on the bench with two fouls and Graham would go down with a knee injury. It was 12-7 at that point.

When Katie Downey hit a three-pointer with 2:41 left in the half, North Bullitt had extended the lead to 20-9.

Shelby Ross' free throws did cut the lead to 20-11 at halftime.

"We were a little tight," admitted Courtney. "But defense is what is going to win the game."

During her halftime discussion, Courtney said her team had missed a lot of good shots. She encouraged them to play tough defense and rebound - two themes which has been stressed all season.

With the full-court pressure becoming more effective in the third quarter, North Bullitt smelled "blood", according to Roach.

With Lady Cougar center Stephanie Still fighting foul trouble after getting off to a quick start with a pair of blocks, the Lady Eagles dominated the board.

Even playing with basically four guards, North Bullitt had a huge advantage on the boards.

That dominance at both ends started to take over after intermission.

Erin Dolan got the third quarter going with two free throws. More importantly, it was the fourth foul on Belle Leonard.

After Ross beat the press for a layup, Savannah Morrison started to get hot after scoring just one point in the first half.

Morrison and Megan Goeing connected on back-to-back three-pointers. 

Maria George got free inside and Morrison hit a layup and a foul shot.

By the 4:46 mark of the quarter, North Bullitt had jumped out to a 33-15 lead and never looked back.

For the rest of the game, it became a constant trip to the foul line for the Lady Eagles.

The downside of the evening came with 1:56 left in the third quarter, Goeing went down in pain. Courtney said she didn't know the extent of the ankle injury.

In the second half, North Bullitt hit 23 of 29 at the foul line, including 11 of 12 in the fourth quarter.

Courtney couldn't find much wrong with the team's performance.

As she has done all season, the entire team got significant minutes and all made contributions.

In the first half with Morrison and Downey struggling, Courtney said their teammates stepped up.

"The bench was great," said Courtney, whose team is now 21-7 entering the regional play with a home game on Monday.

Rachel Badgett, who started earlier in the season, came off the bench to add instant energy.

"She responded very well," Courtney said of Badgett's new role.

Badgett had four points in the first half and a handful of rebounds. For the game, she had eight points.

Even when she rotated the reserves, Courtney said there was no lack of execution in play. She said part of the coaching this year has been to make sure the entire team stays excited throughout the game.

That was no more evident than in the game when reserves Kelsey Raikes and Shaina Blankenship each drilled three-pointers.

The strategy for North Bullitt was simple -- play aggressive defense and force turnovers.

"Our defense makes our offense," said Courtney.

When Graham went down, the Bullitt Central grad said there was no doubt that the pressure was intensified.

Knowing that playing an intra-county rival in a big game was important, Courtney said she could tell her players were focused, although a bit tight.

She also talked about the importance of winning the district tournament. That will give the Lady Eagles a home game on Monday against a runner-up from another district.

"It was important," Courtney said of winning the title. "We're looking to make a run (into the regional). This was one of our steps."

For Roach, there was nothing new to North Bullitt's game.

He knew there would be a lot of pressure on his ball handlers. When Graham went down, he knew the heat would be even greater.

"I am very proud of my girls," said Roach, whose team will face a district winner on the road in Monday's Sixth Region opener.

A team without a senior, Roach said a lot of the players stepped up when foul trouble put three starters on the bench.

"It really changed our game plan and what we could do," said Roach.

Through the first 11 minutes, Roach said his team was in good position. The score was close and the Lady Cougars were handling the press.

However, with the injury and the foul difficulties, it changed his plans.

"It killed everything we wanted to do," said Roach, whose team had lost the two prior meetings this season against North Bullitt.

"I am happy with the focus and that we took the early lead," said Roach, who for the second straight year has faced late-season injuries to key players. "The future is bright for the girls. This will be a great experience in the regionals."

For the game, Morrison came back to lead the Lady Eagles with 18 points. Maria George had a double-double with 14 points and at least 10 rebounds and Downey also reached double figures with 11.

For the Lady Cougars, Sierra Graham and Leonard each had 10 points.

 

At SOUTHERN HIGH

NORTH BULLITT (7-13-26-25) 71 - Savannah Morrison 18, Maria George 14, Katie Downey 11, Erin Dolan 9, Rachel Badgett 8, Megan Goeing 3, Shaina Blankenship 3, Kelsey Raikes 3, Devyn Tompkins 2

BULLITT CENTRAL (7-4-18-19) 48 - Sierra Graham 10, Belle Leonard 10, Emily McKnight 6, Breanna Richardson 5, Lexi Graham 4, Shelby Ross 4, Katlin Graham 3, Carlie Walls 3, Bethany Peercy 2, Cortney Johns 1

 

All-District tourney

The following players were selected to the All-23rd District team: North Bullitt - Savannah Morrison, Maria George and Katie Downey; Bullitt Central - Lexi Graham and Belle Leonard; Southern - Mikayla Hilliard; and Moore - Tyra Jones.