Boyd County’s pep band played the Michael Jackson hit “Thriller” just prior to Thursday night’s 64th District girls championship game.
As expected, that’s the way it played out.
Ashland tried to break Boyd County’s heart in the district final for the seventh consecutive year by scoring the first five points of the fourth quarter to establish its biggest lead at 45-40.
Rather than crumble, the Lady Lions pulled together and prevailed 58-52 in front of a loud crowd at Boyd County Middle School.
“It was time,” Boyd County coach Pete Fraley said after his team finally ended Ashland’s domination in the district title game. “These are two quality teams in the same district. They had our number before tonight.”
The Lady Lions hadn’t won the district crown since 2005, which may have explained why players and fans lingered on the court to celebrate.
“Left, right, I don’t know how many people I kissed on the cheek,” said senior leader Taylor Wheeler, who finished with a game-high 19 points.
Wheeler, who began getting varsity minutes as a seventh-grader, clutched the district championship trophy for the first time in her last try.
“If feels really good,” she said. “Like I’ve said before, this team is really special to me.”
Freshman Alexis Lunsford gave the Lady Lions a huge lift with 17 points and junior Logan Fraley returned from a hard foul to play a key role down the stretch.
Boyd County had some work to do after Ashland eighth-grader Mykasa Robinson hit a 3-pointer and two free throws to put the Kittens up 45-40 with 6:16 remaining.
“Down five in the fourth quarter, we took a little timeout and calmed people down,” said Boyd County’s coach.
Logan Fraley, who left the game late in the third quarter after being hit in the face while driving to the basket, returned to trigger the Lady Lions’ charge. She scored nine of her 13 points in the last 5 1/2 minutes, beginning with two free throws and a putback.
Wheeler added two free throws and Houston Reeves made a 3-pointer in the 12-5 spurt. After Ashland regained the lead on two free throws, Fraley put Boyd County put ahead to stay with a triple from the top of the key at 2:50.
“It came at the right time. I had been in a little slump,” said Fraley, who is one of the state’s top 3-point shooters but had missed her four previous attempts Thursday.
“Pretty sweet, coming back from a bloody nose and hitting a shot like that,” said her father/coach.
Boyd County, clinging to a 52-51 lead, got a driving layup from Lunsford with 54 seconds left. Fraley added two free throws for a five-point lead.
After an Alexis Robinson free throw for Ashland, Wheeler sealed it with two free throws as Boyd County’s student section chanted “M-V-P, M-V-P.”
Wheeler’s teammates followed her lead by going to the basket at every opportunity to pick up baskets or trips to the foul line. Ashland junior Shelby Gransbery, a key player on the front line, fouled out with 6:02 left after Fraley took the ball to the basket.
“We were attacking the basket hard,” she said. “The big thing was playing physical.”
The 5-9 Lunsford hit two 3-pointers but also gave the Kittens problems by driving down the lane.
“She definitely stepped up and played like an upperclassmen,” Wheeler said. “The kid’s just a freshman.”
Wheeler, who was 6-for-9 from the field and made all six of her free throws, also did a dynamite job defensively after Alexis Robinson got off to a sizzling start. Robinson carried the Kittens’ offense early, gliding to the basket for two layups and then hitting three consecutive 3-pointers.
But the junior star was held without a basket for the final 22 1/2 minutes.
“Taylor did an unbelievable job on Alexis after the first quarter,” Pete Fraley said. “We had Taylor move up closer on her, and gave help whenever we could.”
Robinson finished with 17 points and her youngest sister scored 13.
Ashland (21-8) shot 37 percent from the field and 52 percent at the free-throw line.
“We made uncharacteristic mistakes in the fourth quarter and our free throws were not good,” Kittens coach Bill Bradley said. “I was very disappointed with the last four minutes. Overall, Boyd County was a little more aggressive than we were.”
Boyd County has won 10 of its last 11 games and improved to 23-8 overall.
Both teams advance to the 16th Region Tournament next week at Morehead State University. Pairings will be determined Saturday.
ROCKY STANLEY can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2671.
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