SHEPHERDSVILLE - The battle to decide the top-seed for the upcoming 24th District Tournament took a backseat to more emotional matters when Bullitt East invaded Bullitt Central on Friday.
The emotional build-up came to an abrupt halt five minutes into the game when Bullitt Central sophomore guard Keoka Hilliard and Bullitt East’s Kayla Thacker collided as Thacker drove to the basket. The collision was relatively minor, but Hilliard fell awkwardly and hit her head on the floor.
As coaches, school personnel and her parents hurried to the sophomore, she shook and then laid on her back. The huge crowd went silent as an ambulance was called. Both teams were sent back to their dressing rooms.
When the obviously emotional Lady Cougars returned to the floor, Hilliard was on a stretcher and her teammates were able to talk to her before she was taken from the gym and transported to Suburban Hospital.
The game then resumed after the teams were given a seven-minute warm-up period.
(Fortunately, Hilliard suffered only a minor concussion. The players didn’t know that at the time, but after the game she called the cell phone of Bullitt Central head coach Bryan Bates who used the speaker feature so that all the team members could here the good report. In fact, Hilliard played basketball over the weekend and played in the team’s game on Monday night.)
After all of that, and to the surprise of those who thought all of the emotion had been removed from the gym, a magnificent game unfolded between the two best teams in the 24th District. Bullitt East is ranked third in the Sixth Region with Bullitt Central one spot back.
Thacker hit the two foul shots when play resumed to put Bullitt East up 10-2. But, Bullitt Central answered with a three-point play from Valerie Terry and when Logan Wood nailed a three-pointer, Bullitt Central was within 13-10 at the end of the first quarter.
In the first minute of the second quarter, Bullitt Central outscored the Lady Chargers 6-2 to move ahead 16-15. Bullitt East answered with six straight points of their own including a three-pointer from senior Jaime Simpson.
Amazingly, with its three leading scorers out of action at times over the last six minutes of the first half, Bullitt Central still managed to put up a fight. Hilliard was at the hospital and both Lindsay Hester and Qualeatha Bennett were battling foul problems. Bullitt Central managed to lead again at 24-23 and only some hot shooting by Simpson allowed Bullitt East to grab a 33-27 lead at halftime.
The back-and-forth momentum swings continued into the second half. Bullitt Central pulled even again at 34-34 but at that point Bennett picked up her fourth foul. At the 3:50 mark, freshman Kaitlyn McKnight put the Lady Cougars ahead at 36-35 when Bullitt East ran off another six-point surge.
Hester answered with a three-pointer and that fueled Bullitt Central to a 45-43 lead before Simpson’s three-pointer and a basket by Lindey Young just before the horn gave Bullitt East a 48-45 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
Again, Bullitt East pushed out to a small lead and then Bullitt Central would battle back. The Lady Cougars scored eight straight points, six by Hester, to tie the game at 55-55 with 3:45 remaining.
That was as the end of the road for Bullitt Central. Thacker scored the next five points and this time the Lady Cougars could not overcome seven straight Lady Charger points. Hester’s final three-pointer with 34 seconds remaining pulled Bullitt Central within 66-62, but Bullitt East hit six straight free throws to secure the victory.
“It was tough mentally, physically and emotionally tonight,” Bullitt East head coach Chris Stallings said after the game. “I don’t think coach Bates and I have had any experiences like that before. It’s tough.”
Bullitt East fans expected the 22 points that Thacker scored, but it was the 22 points from Simpson that kept the Lady Chargers in front. Simpson has been improving rapidly over the past month.
“She really has,” Stallings said. “I really like the way she lets the game come to her. She’s doing that on both ends of the floor and she has been healthy. That’s a key to her development. She had a big game and that’s nice to see for her and the team.”
After the game, Bates was notably drained, but incredibly proud of what his team was able to accomplish under the circumstances.
“They gave everything they had possible tonight,” the veteran coach said. “I don’t see how they played. They are emotionally tougher than I am.”
Bullitt Central got 21 points from Hester and 10 points from Valerie Terry, but they also got 20 points off the bench from McKnight and Wood who made big plays at key times.
At Bullitt Central
BULLITT EAST 72 (13-20-15-24) Jaime Simpson 22, Jessica Philpott 7, Shelby Romine 9, Kayla Thacker 22, Lindey Young 8, Kelly Cunningham 2, Samantha Johnson 2.
BULLITT CENTRAL 62 (10-17-18-17) Lindsay Hester 21, Qualeatha Bennett 6, Janie Baumgardner 5, Valerie Terry 10, Logan Wood 7, Kaitlyn McKnight 13.