BOWLING GREEN —
Ashland's shooting percentage in the Houchens Industries/KHSAA Girls' Sweet Sixteen looked eerily familiar.
After a promising start Wednesday, the Kittens went cold and fell to Montgomery County 60-49 in a first-round game at Diddle Arena.
Ashland connected on only 29 percent from the field as Montgomery County avenged a 60-55 home loss from the regular season.
It was much the same story as last year at WKU, when the Kittens shot 29 percent in the second half of a four-point loss to Magoffin County.
Montgomery County scored 30 points in the paint while opting to give Ashland plenty of open looks from the perimeter.
“They had a good game plan, jam it inside on us,” Kittens coach Bill Bradley said. “(Defensively) they kind of rolled the dice, hoping we would not hit. We just could not knock it down from outside.”
It didn't start out that way. Ashland, hot from 3-point territory in the final two games of the 16th Region Tournament, continued the trend by making five of its first 10 attempts from beyond the arc for a 21-20 lead early in the second quarter.
After that, the Kittens slipped into a three deep-freeze and couldn't escape it. They made just one of their last 20 three-point tries.
“We played our region on a college floor (Morehead State),” Bradley told the state media. “It was the same background.”
While Ashland struggled offensively, Montgomery County hit 57 percent from the field to secure a quarterfinal matchup with top-ranked Marion County, the tournament's prohibitive favorite.
“We played well,” Indians coach Janie Robinson said. “I thought our experience showed a little bit.”
Montgomery County (29-6) is making its eighth Sweet Sixteen appearance in nine years.
Macie Spence, a 6-foot-1 senior, and 5-9 junior forward Schyler Tipton had their way around the basket. Tipton produced 15 points and 11 rebounds to receive Kentucky National Guard Player of the Game honors, while Spence scored 13.
Along with working the inside, Spence stepped out to make her only 3-point attempt.
“Coach Robinson said we had to go inside out,” Spence said. “They started double-teaming me and Schyler. That opened the threes.”
Junior guard Erica Rogers shot 2-for-2 from long range and was 7-of-9 overall in leading the Indians with 16 points. She said the earlier loss to Ashland provided some incentive.
“It's always awesome when you come back and beat a team that beat you,” said Rogers, who pushed her season 3-point total to 78. “I'm pretty happy about that.”
Olivia Colliver added 10 points to give Montgomery County four players in double figures.
Leading 30-29 at halftime, the Indians started the second half with a 10-0 run while Ashland missed its first seven shots.
The margin grew to 16 on a Rogers 3-pointer to start the fourth quarter, but Ashland senior Sydney Cullop made a big push to get her team back in the game.
Cullop scored the next eight points, capped by a trey to end her team's lengthy 3-ball drought, as the Kittens closed to 51-43 with 5:19 still remaining.
“Sydney's a warrior,” Bradley said. “She did the same thing last year. She just didn't want to go down without fighting. All these girls are like that.”
Ashland's pressure defense came up with another turnover, but a missed layup on the other end took steam out of the comeback. The Kittens couldn't get closer than eight the rest of the way.
“Ashland's a great team,” Robinson said. “I don't know what their shooting percentage is, but we did force them to move a little bit off the 3-point line. We kind of gutted it out at the end.”
Cullop, Kaylyn Gambill and Haley Sue Foutch each scored 10 points for the Kittens (25-7). Alexis Robinson finished with seven points, nine rebounds, six assists and two steals.
Ashland loses seven seniors from a group that enjoyed considerable success.
“The last four years, they won four districts, two region championships and a runner-up. They were in a lot of pressure games, and came through. This was a great group, no doubt about it.”
ROCKY STANLEY can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2671.