BOWLING GREEN--Rowan County set out a lofty goal at the start of the season, but very few teams actually accomplish what the Lady Vikings were going after.
Four, to be exact.
Rowan County tackled a rare feat, achieving the season-long mission of “Playing for Saturday morning” by knocking off Clay County, 48-31, in the quarterfinal round of the Houchens Industries KHSAA Sweet 16 Girls' State Basketball Tournament at Western Kentucky University's E.A. Diddle Arena Friday.
The Lady Vikings became the first 16th Region team to advance to the state semifinals since 2006, when Rose Hill Christian fell in the final game.
They also rendered their coach speechless. Kind of.
“There's not many times in my life that I've been speechless,” said Rowan County coach Scott Tackett. “We've just had a special feeling all week long.”
Rowan County (22-8) broke an 8-8 first-quarter tie and never again lost the lead, thanks to a surprising 3-point shooting barrage.
The Lady Vikings went 11-for-37 from the field, including 7-for-14 3-pointers. During the second and third quarters, Rowan County made only seven shots, but six of them were 3s.
“I wish I could say that was something I expected,” Tackett said. “I do think we have a good shooting basketball team. If you give us a decent look, we're gonna knock down some shots.”
Clay County (28-7) allowed Rowan County space on the perimeter, and the Lady Vikings took advantage.
Senior point guard Kaitlyn Muncy drained one of the team's three second-quarter 3-pointers to give the Lady Vikings a 16-9 lead.
Muncy, who had made five 3-pointers all season, sank two treys Friday. She had 12 points in 28 minutes.
Tackett thought that Clay County wanted to force the Lady Vikings to shoot from the perimeter.
“I think that was their game plan,” Tackett said. “When (Muncy) made her second three I looked over and (Clay County coach James Burchell) looked at his assistants and just threw his hands up.”
Tierra Hamilton, who was named the player of the game, hit two 3-pointers, as did Natasha Kissinger. Jenna Kiser also provided a long ball.
Hamilton scored a game-high 13 points and was pivotal in the fourth quarter, pacing another solid free-throw shooting effort by Rowan County. She made six free throws in the final period as Rowan County finished 19-for-24 from the charity stripe.
Before the state tournament, in which the Lady Vikings are 36-for-49 from the free-throw line, Rowan County had been shaky at best, at a 59 percent clip.
“If you don't knock down free throws, it'll cost you in a big environment,” Tackett said. “We've been very inconsistent, but like I told them in the locker room, it's hard to underestimate the heart of a champion. They're going to do whatever it takes.”
Tackett knew it was going to take a near flawless effort in the paint to handle a bigger Clay County team.
Not normally an advocate of zone defenses, Tackett decided to instill the 2-3 zone for much of the game.
“We don't use (zone) much, but we work on it daily,” Tackett said. “We thought we could turn this team over and we couldn't let (Whitney Belle) Jackson and (Jordan) Phillips beat us.”
Rowan County caused 19 turnovers by the Lady Tigers and held Jackson and Phillips to a combined eight points. Phillips was held scoreless, which, according to Tackett, was a credit to Kiser.
“We wouldn't be sitting here right now if it weren't for this young lady,” Tackett said of Kiser. “She refused to let Phillips catch the basketball in the middle.”
Clay County cut Rowan County's lead to 19-18 early in the third quarter, but the hot hands of Muncy and Hamilton prevented the Lady Tigers from getting any closer. The two scored all 10 third-quarter points and expanded the lead to a comfortable 29-20.
AARON SNYDER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2664.