LOUISVILLE – A pair of second half surges were not enough for the Bullitt East Lady Chargers on Friday in the semi-finals of the Girls’ Sixth Region Tournament at Bellarmine University.
Battling Iroquois, the state’s top-ranked team most of the season, the Lady Chargers sliced a 12-point halftime deficit to five points in the third quarter and then again to six points midway through the final frame. That 46-40 score was the last gasp for Bullitt East as the Lady Raiders scored eight straight points en route to collecting a 58-45 victory.
This was the third straight season that Bullitt East’s season ended with a loss at the hands of Iroquois in the regional tournament.
The win moved Iroquois (28-1) into the championship game on Saturday night where they were slated to once again take on Butler. Those two squads have met in four of the past five regional finals.
Bullitt East (23-9) had lost to Iroquois 62-52 back on Feb. 3 in Louisville. In fact, the Lady Chargers are 0-7 against the Lady Raiders since they joined the Sixth Region for the 2005-06 season.
The effort was vintage Bullitt East, but Iroquois, the state runners-up two seasons ago with four of the same starters, but had too much experience to wilt under some intense play.
“I cannot fault the kids’ effort,” veteran Bullitt East head coach Chris Stallings said after meeting with his team. “The execution was a lot better in this game against a tough opponent. They are awfully good and experienced.”
Bullitt East had very little to show at halftime for their effort in the first half. Iroquois had a 29-17 lead on the scoreboard. At that point, the Lady Raiders had a 15-2 advantage in offensive rebounds and had an overall rebounding edge of 22-12.
The Lady Chargers started holding onto the ball better in the third quarter, cutting the margin to 32-23 before Iroquois scored six straight points. Bullitt East answered with a basket by Jamie Simpson and then two free throws by Kayla Thacker and after a steal, the red and gold got the ball inside to Johnson who was fouled by Meka Birdsong. When she objected to the call she was whistled for a technical foul, the second on an Iroquois player in the game.
During the excitement of that technical foul, the Iroquois’ bench was assessed another technical foul by the three-man officiating crew.
Unfortunately, Bullitt East only converted three of their six free throw chances. Still, when Johnson got loose in the lane for a three-point play, Bullitt East was within 38-33 with a partisan Charger crowd electrified.
Converting more free throws at that point would have put a lot more pressure on the Lady Raiders.
“It could have been a little different,” Stallings admitted.
But this was nothing new for Iroquois. The Lady Raiders scored the next four points and despite two baskets by Jackie Stevens, Bullitt East was down 44-37 heading into the final frame.
That lead grew with a basket by Kayla Hickman, but moments later Thacker was fouled going to the basket. The junior hit the first free throw, but when the second kicked left, Thacker was there to put it back in, slicing the margin to 46-40.
Unfortunately, over the next two minutes, Bullitt East had a pair of misses and two turnovers as Iroquois managed to score eight straight points. Over the final eight minutes of the game, the Lady Chargers scored just eight points as the Lady Raiders stayed in command.
“We were right there and had a shot,” Stallings noted. “Like I told the girls at the end of practice yesterday, we just want a shot at the end. We had some opportunities right there and maybe we didn’t take advantage as well as we could have done.”
The game was physical and rough and tumble, but nothing that Stallings didn’t expect.
“They are a physical team,” the Lady Charger coach said. “They are used to pushing people around. I don’t think anything was dirty. We’re physical. It was just a tough game. We’ve played them the last four years and each game has been physical.”
Stallings also wasn’t going to play the ‘what if’ game either.
“We ‘re not going to have any regrets,” the coach said. “We haven’t had any all year. We prepared hard and we came out and played hard. That’s what we did.”
Bullitt East had basically been preparing to play Iroquois again over the past month.
“We’ve prepared for them since the night we left their place,” Stallings said. “We really worked hard against the press and sometimes it showed and sometimes it didn’t. But anything special, no, we just came to play. Our kids did a good job preparing.”
One aspect of the game not up for debate was that the Lady Chargers had a big advantage in crowd support.
“I was proud of our community,” Stallings said. “They came out and the girls and I and the other coaches want to thank the school and the students and the people in our community. We felt like we played hard for them.”
Thacker led Bullitt East with ten points and she also pulled down eight rebounds. The team also got eight points from senior Chelsey Smith.
Iroquois was led by Adia Mathies with 16 points and nine rebounds. Mathis will be playing at the University of Kentucky next season. The Lady Raiders also got 12 points from Stafonia Taylor and ten points by Kayla Hickman.
Lady Raider head coach Al Northington started five seniors in this game. Of the 58 points scored by Iroquois, 54 of those points were scored by the seniors.
At Bellarmine University
BULLITT EAST 45 (5-12-20-8) Jaime Simpson 5, Chelsey Smith 8, Whitney Stansbury 3, Shelby Romine 6, Jade Troutman 2, Kayla Thacker 10, Kelly Cunningham 3, Jackie Stevens 4, Samantha Johnson 4.
IROQUOIS 58 (14-15-15-14) Asia Mathies 7, Meka Birdsong 9, Stafonia Taylor 12, Adia Mathies 16, Kayla Hickman 10, Carmen Talbott 4.