When the final horn of the 61st District championship game sounded and Rowan County coach Scott Tackett and Fleming County coach Kristy Orem shook hands at center court, Tackett reminded Orem of what she had told him four years ago.
“I told her that Hell must have frozen over because she played a zone against us,” Tackett recalled. “She told me in 2008 that there were two things that she would never do — coach Rowan County or play zone defense.”
While firmly against the idea of playing zone defense, Orem made the switch from man-to-man to a 1-2-2 zone in the second quarter and it proved to be just the change that the Lady Panthers needed as they turned an 18-point first quarter deficit into a 53-49 victory on Thursday night at Bath County.
The win gave Fleming County its second district title in the past three seasons.
Orem said she had no other choice but to change defenses after the Lady Vikings started the game 9-of-12 from the field to build an 18-point lead, at 21-3, after the first quarter.
“We had to do it,” she said. “Taylor Lewis always wears us out, and we had to figure out a way to defend her and keep her from getting to the rim. Zone was the only way we could do that.”
Lewis was largely held in check, scoring 12 points on 5-of-13 shooting.
The Lady Panthers (26-5) held Rowan County to just 11 points in the second quarter, but still trailed 31-20 because of their own struggles to score. They were shooting just 25 percent from the floor at the break.
Senior Robbie Allex did her best to keep Fleming County within striking distance by scoring 13 points in the first 16 minutes.
“She was very big for us,” Orem said. “I told her, ‘Honey you have got to get to the rim and score.’ Sometimes she gets in the point guard mentality and doesn’t look to score, but I made sure to tell her we needed her to score tonight.”
The comeback continued in the second half, mostly behind the play of Allex, who scored a team-high 21 points, and fellow senior Morgan Jett, who recorded a double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds.
The two combined to make the two biggest shots of the game late in the fourth quarter, when they made back-to-back 3-pointers. The first of those threes gave Fleming County its first lead of the game at 46-45 with 1:52 remaining.
Orem, who had already been hit with a technical foul, said she tried not to get to excited over the basket.
“I just kept saying ‘Get back on defense, get back on defense,’” she said.
When asked what she was thinking after the shot went in, Allex was a little more excited.
“I just kept thinking thank you Lord, thank you Lord, thank you Lord,” she said with a huge smile after the game.
After Rowan County (24-6) regained the lead on a Kathryn Duff basket, Jett buried and open three from the left corner to give Fleming County the lead once again.
Tackett said the open three was the result of a defensive miscue.
“I told them it was OK to switch, but you have to do it early and communicate when you do. We didn’t do that on that play,” he said. “We had two people on one person and none on the other. She got and open look and knocked it down.”
Jett sealed the game with two free throws, after Rowan County was assessed a technical foul for calling a timeout that they did not have.
Just as Allex and Jett did their best to keep the Lady Panthers in the game early, Duff did her best to help Rowan County hold on its lead in the second half. She scored 13 of her 21 points after the intermission, including nine straight at one juncture.
“We tried to run our offense through Kathryn a lot this year, because she is a very talented kid,” Tackett said. “I think she showed a lot of toughness tonight.”
Both teams will advance to next week’s 16th Region Tournament, which begins play on Monday.
Taylor Lewis (Rowan County), Mandy Boyd (Fleming County), Lexy Grimes (Bath County), Paige Warren (Menifee County), Kathryn Duff (Rowan County), Morgan Jett (Fleming County), Taylor Rogers (Bath County), Chelsea Walker (Menifee County), Stevee Townsend (Rowan County), Alliyah Johnson (Fleming County). MVP — Robbie Allex (Fleming County).