LOUISVILLE - Sometimes taking the slow route is the best way to get the job done.
The Bullitt East Lady Chargers did just that on Thursday in the semi-finals of the Girls’ Sixth Region Tournament at Bellarmine University’s Knights Hall as they beat an athletic Central team 64-50.
The win moved the red and gold into Saturday’s championship game against Butler in a rematch of last season’s Sixth Region Championship Game.
Bullitt East relied on a stout defense and strong rebounding to avenge a 53-50 loss to the Lady Jackets back on Jan. 14 in Louisville.
“I thought we handled the ball and their press a little better than the first time,” Bullitt East head coach Chris Stallings said after a boisterous meeting with his team after its 25th victory of the season. “We went 10 or 11 possessions without scoring in that first game. That was a big difference tonight.
“Plus, we rebounded the ball a lot better tonight,” the coach added of a 30-23 advantage on the boards.
For most of the game, the Lady Chargers sagged back in a 2-3 zone or a triangle and two defense and kept bodies between the dribblers and the basket. Central had only a handful of lay-ups, instead having to settle for mid-range and longer jump shots.
The game also did not become a track meet. Neither team had many fast break baskets. Instead, Bullitt East made it a half-court game, working on the offensive end to get the ball inside to seniors Lindey Young and Meredith Polson who had a definite size advantage on the Lady Jacket front-line players.
“We’re pretty balanced,” Stallings said of his attack. “We have a pretty nice inside/outside game that we have developed over the year. We have confidence right now.”
The win also showed the continued improvement of Bullitt East point guard Emily Fryman on both ends of the floor. Against Central’s full-court pressure, she had only four turnovers. The freshman controlled the pace of the game and got Bullitt East into the correct plays while also scoring a couple of key baskets down the stretch.
As it turned out, Bullitt East had only four players score. Young led the way with 24 points and 13 rebounds while junior Nikole Isabel had 16 points, including a trio of three-pointers. Polson added 15 points to the total while Fryman finished with nine points.
Bullitt East shot 54 percent from the field in the win as Young and Polson combined to go 12 of 18.
The Lady Chargers broke the game open with a big second quarter as they outscored Central 23-11. The Lady Jackets scored the first basket of the quarter to pull within 14-13 before Bullitt East ripped off 18 of the next 20 points to take a 32-15 lead that was the biggest of the game. Isabel had two of her three-pointers in that run while Young had 10 points to go along with a hoop inside by Polson.
Central did get back to within 12 points before Isabel hit the last of her three-pointers just before the buzzer to make it 37-22 at halftime.
In the second half, Central put the ball even more into the hands of senior Brianna Averette, the Sixth Region Player of the Year. She had 18 of her game-high 27 points in the second half, but she could not get her team closer than eight points.
Bullitt East kept it a double-digit game in the third quarter, pushing ahead by as many as 16 points at 48-32, but then early in the fourth quarter four straight misses on the foul line allowed Central to make a final charge.
The Lady Chargers led 48-34 heading into the final frame before Central scored five quick points to open the period as Bullitt East missed at the line. Fryman answered that with a strong drive to the basket, but when Averette hit the last of her two three-pointers, Central was within 50-42 with 4:30 remaining in the game.
Polson worked inside for a basket to slow Central’s surge and then the senior hit one free throw. The last time the Lady Jackets were within single-digits came when Averette hit two free throws. A basket by Polson and then a three-point play by Young with 2:20 to play started the celebration on the Bullitt East side of Knights Hall on the Bellarmine University campus.
Averette finished with 27 points, but no other Lady Jacket player had more than the nine points of Brianna Hawkins. Jerea Brice, who scored 19 points in the first meeting between the two teams, was held to two points in this contest.
“We were able to change defenses on them quite a bit,” Stallings pointed out. “I think that bothered them early. We’ve been a good defensive team all year, but especially since Christmas.”
Now the Lady Chargers have the showdown with Butler, a team that beat them 64-42 back on Dec. 7 in Mount Washington.
“It’s nice to be back here,” Stallings said of being at Bellarmine again. That’s been the goal. We left something here that we wanted last year (the regional crown).
“Butler is playing really well and they have been good all year,” the coach added of the 26-4 Bearettes. “But anything can happen in one game.”
Sixth Region Tourney
At Bellarmine University
BULLITT EAST 64 (14-23-11-16) Emily Fryman 9, Nikole Isabel 16, Meredith Polson 15, Lindey Young 24.
CENTRAL 50 (11-11-12-16) Brianna Hawkins 9, Jerea Brice 2, Nikcoa Jackson 4, Brianna Averette 27, Crissa Washington 6, Royalty Finn 2.
In perhaps the easiest first-round regional game any Bullitt County team has ever played, the Lady Chargers advanced to the meeting against Central by blitzing a bad Doss team 70-13 on Tuesday at Atherton High School.
Doss (4-23) came into the regional tournament off a 75-10 loss to Butler in the championship game of the 22nd District.
This one was over early as Bullitt East pushed ahead 24-5 in the first quarter and then stretched that to 49-8 by halftime. Doss did not even score in the third quarter despite the fact that Stallings emptied his bench early, including an appearance by senior Jessica Philpott, who is returning from summer knee surgery. She had a basket, her second of the season, in a few minutes of play.
Isabel, who scored 21 points despite playing only 12 minutes in the win, led Bullitt East. The junior connected on a trio of three-pointers. The Lady Chargers also got 11 points from Polson on a night in which 12 players scored.
Sixth Region Tourney
At Atherton HS
DOSS 13 (5-3-0-5) Burell 3, Williams 3, Lopes 4, Kaufman 3.
BULLITT EAST 70 (24-25-11-10) Jessica Philpott 2, Whitney Stansbury 4, Meredith Polson 11, Lindey Young 7, Emily Fryman 2, Nikole Isabel 21, Ashley Duvall 2, Courtney Pfister 2, Taylor Blain 9, Rachel Broughton 5, Maggie Smith 2, Sara Stevens 3.