Bardstown 54, Nelson Co. 41
By Peter W. Zubaty, Sports Editor
Friday, February 23, 2018 at 10:10 pm (Updated: February 24, 12:35 pm)
SPRINGFIELD — Bardstown finished the game with an 18-7 run to pull away from Nelson County Friday and win the school’s first girls’ 19th District championship since 2008. PETER W. ZUBATY/The Kentucky Standard Bardstown freshman MaTija Yocum, left, and the Tiger student section erupt at the end of Bardstown's 54-41 victory Friday over Nelson County to capture the 19th District championship for the first time since 2008.
“I’m on cloud nine,” Bardstown senior Destanie Love said. “I was just bawling my eyes out. It’s surreal being able to do this senior year.”
Bardstown’s victory at Washington County High School snapped a nine-year reign as district champions for Nelson County (18-13), as well as stopping a 31-game Cardinal win streak over district rivals. The Cardinals won both regular-season matchups over the Tigers (20-9).
“It’s a great way to end my senior year,” Bardstown’s Haylee Koger said. “We knew coming into this game that we could beat them. We just had to be confident and play the way we know how to play.”
Both teams are in action this week at Central Hardin for the 5th Region tournament, which starts Monday. See associated story for pairings.
“It means a lot to this program,” Tigers coach Amber Courtney said. “Nelson’s won it like nine straight years. It was time for it to come to Bardstown. These girls have worked so hard — especially seniors — these last four years. They’ve put in the time and done what they’re supposed to. And my underclassmen, they just blew it out of the water.”
Bardstown’s winning recipe involved its usual stout defense and rebounding, but did not feature the slow start followed by a furious second-half comeback that has become a Tiger calling card during their current stretch of nine wins in the past 10 contests. The only loss during that stretch was to Nelson County, 57-54, a setback that saw Bardstown rally from 31 down to have a chance late.
This time around, the Tigers got the advantage early. The Cardinals got out to a 6-2 lead as Bardstown missed its first six shots from the field, but the Tigers claimed the lead for good on Katrina Brown’s stickback with a minute to play in the first quarter to go up 11-10. The Tigers’ rebounding was a huge factor in the game, creating several second-chance opportunities on offense, and limiting Nelson County to just one shot most trips down the floor.
“We came into the game with the game plan to do the little stuff — box out, just play defense, and do what we know how to do,” said Koger, who scored 10.
Brown, a sophomore, scored just six points, but gathered a game-high 15 rebounds. Love also grabbed 13 boards to go with nine points.
In the second frame, the Tigers took control. Koger and Love turned steals into baskets to give Bardstown a 20-14 lead with 3:32 before halftime. After Marly Walls’ bucket temporarily stopped the bleeding, Bardstown then pieced together a 7-2 run to close the half, capped off by Koger’s three that sent her team into the locker room up 27-18, the biggest Tiger lead to that point.
Walls, the senior Miss Basketball candidate and 5th Region player of the year, started to get things going with her team still down by nine midway through the third quarter. She scored six points during a 9-2 Cardinal run, including a three at the 1:29 mark that pulled her team to within 31-29, forcing a Bardstown time out.
“We really struggled offensively,” Nelson County coach Troy Lee Thomas said. “We hit some shots there and cut it to two a couple times in the fourth quarter and really thought we had the momentum going. It’s just one of those things that happens.”
The Tigers bounced back out of the stop in play, with MaTija Yocum getting two driving layups in the final 37 seconds to stretch the lead back out to 35-29.
Nelson County made its last big push early in the fourth. Walls hit a pair of technical free throws, and Zaria Burton assisted Madison McClain for her second three-pointer of the night, trimming the Bardstown lead to 36-34 with just less than six minutes to go in the game. Overall, the Cardinals hit just three three-pointers.
“We had good looks third and fourth quarter,” Walls said. “We weren’t hitting them, and when we aren’t hitting them, we get flustered, and that’s where you saw how our defense wasn’t there, and Bardstown was getting easy shots where our shots weren’t falling.”
The Tigers took total control after that, scoring 12 straight points over the next three minutes to claim their biggest lead of the game at 48-34 with 2:42 to play after a Love stickback. Yocum scored four points during that stretch, and forced two Nelson County turnovers on a night when she finished with eight points and eight rebounds.
Nelson County got as close as nine in the closing minutes, but eighth-grader Jaileyah Cotton hit all six of her free throw attempts in the final 1:24 to keep the Cardinals at bay. Cotton finished with a game-high 21, and scored 11 in the fourth quarter.
Walls scored 19 to lead Nelson County, and Amelia Hodges had 10.
Both teams advance to next week’s 5th Region tournament at Central Hardin. The Cardinals are defending region champs. The region draw is set for Saturday morning, and play begins Monday.