Ashland senior Allie Slone had a tough time just staying healthy this season due to knee and foot injuries, along with sickness.
She also didn't care much for her offensive performances in the first two games of the 16th Region Tournament.
None of that mattered Tuesday night after a down-to-the wire thrill ride of a title game.
Slone capped one of her career-best scoring outputs by sinking two free throws to break a tie with 21 seconds remaining and lift Ashland past Boyd County 54-52 at Ellis T. Johnson Arena.
“It's great,” said the soft-spoken guard. “We were defending champions and came out and played our hearts out to get another one.”
Slone, known primarily for her fine defensive play, bombed in four 3-pointers and finished with a game-high 18 points. She entered the night with 11 three-pointers on the season and a 7.1 scoring average.
“Allie missed three wide-open layups (Monday) night and was down on herself,” Ashland coach Bill Bradley said. “She came out tonight and was unbelievable. She was the difference. Everybody else played their normal game, but Allie was the X factor.”
On her huge night, Slone delivered when her team needed it the most.
With the score was deadlocked at 52, Ashland took a timeout with 53 seconds left. The Kittens worked the clock down until Slone made a move to the basket and was fouled going down the lane.
She swished both attempts and Ashland held on for the victory as Boyd County missed a shot and follow attempt in the closing seconds.
“I'm so proud of Allie for having the guts to take that drive,” Bradley said. “She's a passive girl, really quiet and unassuming. I wouldn't say it shocked me, but it surprised me a little bit. It shows how much she's grown as a player.”
Boyd County coach Pete Fraley also gave credit to Slone.
“Hats off to Allie for getting the foul call there at the end and making two free throws,” Fraley said. “She played outstanding, the best game I've seen the kid play in her life. She picked a good time to do it.”
Ashland (25-6) defeated Boyd County for the third time in four meetings this season to earn a return trip to the Girls' Sweet Sixteen in Bowling Green.
“This one I can really enjoy,” Bradley said during the post-game celebration. “Last year I was numb because it was the first time to win in 11 years.”
A high priority in Ashland's game plan was not to allow Boyd County to jump out to a strong start.
“If they get a lead, they have the ability to control the tempo of the game and make it hard for you to come from behind,” Bradley said.
His wish was answered as the Kittens came firing out of the gate. Tournament MVP Alexis Robinson hit a deep 3-pointer from the wing on the opening possession, then Kaylyn Gambill and Slone connected from beyond the arc for a 9-0 lead.
Ashland went on to tie a tournament record with 10 treys in 21 attempts. Gambill, who has been hard on Boyd County from long range during her Kitten career, added three more Tuesday. Two came in the second half, including a kind bounce midway through the fourth quarter after Boyd County had gone up 48-47 on Emily Stewart's three-point play.
Gambill finished with 16 points. She and teammate Sydney Cullop, both seniors, won their fourth regional championships -- two at Rose Hill Christian before joining Ashland's program.
Robinson, a sophomore, made two 3-pointers in four tries on her way to a double-double of 11 rebounds and 10 points. Maddy Jones added to the 3-ball parade by connecting on her only shot attempt.
Jones and the Kittens' other six seniors posed for pictures following team photos.
“This feels so good,” Jones said. “The whole team is like my family. We're happy to win the region twice in a row. Boyd County made it really close.”
The Lady Lions battled back from a 10-point deficit and took a 45-42 lead in the fourth quarter. An offensive rebound got Taylor Wheeler to the foul line and she made the first of two. Teammate Morgan Kenser grabbed her miss and stuck it back for the three-point margin.
“My kids fought and played hard,” Fraley said. “I believe this might have been the most wins (26) in school history. I know it's the most since I've been here. I lose three really good seniors (Stewart, Kenser and Caitlin Coburn). That's the hard part.”
Stewart put in 17 points, Wheeler 14 and Logan Fraley 10 for the Lady Lions, who were only 1-for-10 on 3-pointers.
‰ Tickets to Ashland's first-round State Tournament game may be purchased Monday (1 p.m.) in the school office.
ROCKY STANLEY can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2671.