By AARON SNYDER / The Independent
BOWLING GREEN--Rowan County coach Scott Tackett can’t quite put a finger on it, but there is something special about the 2010 Lady Vikings.
“We may not be the most talented team, but I get a feeling about this team that I don't get a whole lot,” Tackett said. “There’s something special going on here.”
For the first time in three straight trips to the Houchens Industries KHSAA Sweet 16 girls' state basketball tournament, Rowan County will advance to the quarterfinal round.
The Lady Vikings demonstrated unmatchable effort early, ultimately beating Breathitt County, 47-39, in the opening round Wednesday at Western Kentucky University's E.A. Diddle Arena.
And the goal remains the same.
“We want to be playing on Saturday morning (in the semifinals),” said Rowan County senior Natasha Kissinger, who was awarded Player of the Game honors with a 17-point, seven-rebound game.
Rowan County (21-8) surged out to an 11-2 advantage behind exceptional glass-work and solid free-throw shooting.
The Lady Vikings attacked the basket relentlessly, as they prefer to do, and it paid off. They outrebounded the Lady Cats 13-3 in the first quarter.
Kissinger scored nine points in the first period to help give her team an 18-7 lead.
“I knew that I really had to take the ball to the rim because they are a lot bigger team than us,” Kissinger said.
Kissinger made three of the team’s seven free throws (of eight attempts) in the first quarter.
According to Tackett, rebounding was the number one key heading into the first game of Wednesday's evening session.
“I’d seen (Breathitt County) play three times live and three times on tape, and they just kill people on the glass,” Tackett said. “That was job one tonight. I think the girls understood that if we do get out there and battle and compete on the glass, we have a good chance.”
Rowan County’s defense limited Breathitt County to 15-for-54 (27.8 percent) from the field. However, the Lady Vikings struggled to shoot for a span in the third quarter, allowing the Lady Cats to stay close.
After Kaitlyn Muncy penetrated into traffic to make a sweeping lay-in, the Lady Vikings were held scoreless for three and a half minutes. Kissinger ended the skid, which put Rowan County in front 30-22.
Breathitt County coach Peggy Moore thought her team's third-quarter defense might have been sufficient if not for the lack of execution in the first half.
“We had a good idea of what (Rowan County) did, and we said we were gonna stop it,” Moore said. “But there was not much effort put into stopping it.”
Seniors Adri Neely and Jenna Kiser were also pivotal as Rowan County trailed only one time, at 2-0.
Neely finished with 12 rebounds, while Kiser’s effort can be summed up with one play.
During the second quarter, Muncy misfired a pass cross-court that was assuredly heading out of bounds. However, Kiser's 5-foot-9 frame sprawled out onto the floor to make the sliding save.
Breathitt County’s final serious comeback attempt was fueled by sophomore guard Kendall Noble. She kept her team close with baskets as Eden Keeton grabbed a few of her game-high 15 rebounds.
Noble scored eight of her game-high 21 points in the fourth quarter, including a three-point play to cut Rowan County’s lead to 36-32 with 6:20 remaining.
On the ensuing possession, Rowan County junior Tierra Hamilton's 3-pointer silenced any sort of rally.
Rowan County will face Clay County Friday at 2:30 p.m.
“(Clay County) is a good team that will offer an immense challenge for us,” Tackett said.
AARON SNYDER can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2664.