For The Independent
After Friday's 61st District girls basketball championship game, Fleming County coach Kristy Orem told her players which strands of one of the nets to snip.
When it was Orem's turn, she whooped, hollered, waved one of the nets, climbed down the ladder — and then ascended again because she left the tape scissors at the top.
It was one of the few things that went wrong. The Lady Panthers overwhelmingly defended their crown, 57-36, at Menifee County High School.
Orem said she was simply excited.
“It's all right,” she gleefully said. “We've got to live and learn.”
Fleming County claimed its third district title in four seasons. To senior guard Tierra Taylor, what happened on Friday was the result of one thing in particular.
“Coach (Orem) had us coming in in the mornings to work on our shooting, threes (and) everything,” said Taylor, who led her team with 12 points on the way to tournament Most Valuable Player honors.
Orem said a 54-39 loss at East Carter necessitated a change.
“We started coming in at 6:15 in the morning,” she said.
Thursday's ice storm forced Fleming County to cancel classes Friday, but the Lady Panthers were hotter than boiling water you used to brew your morning coffee. They forced 20 Rowan County turnovers (and converted them into 21 points); outrebounded the Lady Vikings, 32-24; and outscored Rowan County, 30-14, in the second half.
Not bad for a team that was predicted to finish fourth in the district after graduating six seniors.
Rowan County's biggest first-half problem was turnovers. The Lady Vikings surrendered 12 in the first half, which Fleming County converted into 10 points.
A late first-quarter sequence was an example. The Lady Panthers' Tori Ishmael knocked down a three off a turnover, which started a 6-0 run for a 15-6 lead.
Rowan County (15-14) stuck with its 2-3 zone in the second quarter, but Fleming County's perimeter shooting prevailed — five threes for the half — including Rachel Boyd's triple from the right wing, which put the Lady Panthers ahead, 18-13, a little more than two minutes in.
The Lady Vikings three times pulled to within four on Candace Justice's drive, the second time at 26-22 on Faith Conn's 12-footer over Ishmael with 14 seconds left.
Fleming County's (19-10) second-half runaway actually started in the last minute of the second quarter on Journey Steward's free throw, giving her team a 27-22 intermission lead.
Rowan County abandoned the zone for man-to-man in the third quarter, but for long stretches Fleming County solved it.
The illustrations were numerous. Among them: layups from Martina Lytle and Taylor; Lytle's 12-footer and two free throws; Taylor's two threes from the right wing; and an Abby Miller 15-foot jumper.
The Lady Vikings had nary a field goal the rest of the quarter after Faith Conn's a little more than two minutes in, and no points at all in the final 4:41. It was a goal Orem had because in previous meetings, Rowan County was able to gain a lead and play zone, which sometimes stifled her team's offense.
The denouement: Fleming County, 47-29, with eight minutes to play.
“I just thought our kids played really intimidated,” Rowan County coach Jen Williams said. “We didn't do the things that we know how to do.”
As the clock wound down, Orem and her husband, assistant coach Robert Orem, celebrated with a two-second do-si-do, complete with a twirl.
“Everybody thought we weren't going to be anything,” Kristy Orem said. “ … We were considered fourth in the district.”
Sarah Price (Bath Co.); Shae Sparks (Bath Co.); Haley Lane (Menifee Co.); Paige Warren (Menifee Co.); Hannah Bandura (Rowan Co.); Faith Conn (Rowan Co.); Taylor Conn (Rowan Co.); Martina Lytle (Fleming Co.); Shayla Robinson (Fleming Co.); Tori Ishmael (Fleming Co.).
Most Valuable Player: Tierra Taylor, Fleming County.