Even if Cinderella stories are what captivate basketball observers during March, there’s no room to complain with Ashland and East Carter facing off in tonight’s 16thRegion Tournament final, either.
The first time the Lady Raiders, ranked eighth in Kentucky by the Associated Press, and the two-time defending region champion Kittens faced off this season, East Carter coach Hager Easterling likened the game to a heavyweight boxing match.
That’s what fans should figure to see tonight, not only because that’s the oft-used simile or metaphor for a contest between expected contenders, but because East Carter and Ashland have both displayed a willingness and ability to win physical basketball games when necessary.
The Kittens slogged through a 49-45 defeat of Lewis County in the quarterfinals on Tuesday, then powered to a 57-39 victory against Fleming County in the semifinals on Wednesday.
Toughness, physicality and intestinal fortitude helped Ashland win those games. Coach Bill Bradley has suggested at times this season the Kittens needed to “get a little meaner” too, and he said they have begun to show that.
Easterling, for his part, said Ashland will present a physical challenge for his team, specifically mentioning Haley-Sue Foutch’s work inside.
“It’s gonna be a big key because that’s what kept them in the game over at Ashland last time we played, was offensive rebounding,” Easterling said. “They just killed us on the offensive glass. A lot of times in the postseason it is who plays the most physical that does win.”
The Lady Raiders are guard-oriented and shot 26 3-pointers in their 51-38 defeat of Russell in the semifinals Thursday. But that doesn’t mean they’re soft.
“They’re so well-rounded,” Bradley said. “They all shoot 3s, they all can handle the ball, they’re very smart (and) they’re the most experienced team in the region right now.”