Prep Basketball: Experience and tough schedule paid off for Lincoln girls in 12th Region final
Lincoln County senior Chansler Gilbert, right, holds the 12th Region championship trophy in the air as she celebrates with teammates Tiandra Hocker, left, and Kourtney Belcher (21) after Tuesday's overtime win that sends the Patriots back to the state tournament. (Clay Jackson / Clay Jackson / January 23, 2013)
The Patriots (27-5) blew a 14-point second-quarter lead in the regional championship, but their experience in big games paid big dividends in overtime as Lincoln won its second straight 12th Region title with a thrilling 56-54 victory over stubborn Casey County in the championship game Tuesday night at Pulaski County.
“I honestly believe we played one of the five toughest schedules in the state and that helped us get through tonight,” Lincoln coach Cassandra McWhorter said. “We played Anderson County (who has lost just once), Owensboro Catholic in the Lexington Catholic tournament, Scott County, Woodford County and scrimmaged Lafayette. It definitely helped us tonight.”
“We tried not to keep last year in the back of our minds,” senior guard Emily Fox said. “We didn’t worry about certain situations and tried to play one game at a time. We knew everyone would give us their best shot, and were prepared. Casey came out in the second half and gave us all we could handle. Free throws are huge in any game and fortunately, we were about to hit enough to win the game.”
Senior center Sydney Harris agreed.
“We didn’t panic when Casey made its run at us,” she said. “Our seniors have been in these situations before and tried to stay calm.”
The Patriots, who connected on nine of 11 free throws in regulation, managed to hit just seven of 14 tries in the overtime period, but Kourtney Belcher and Ciara Saylor hit three each in the final minute and a half to help Lincoln escape with the victory.
“We hit just enough to hold on,” McWhorter said. “That surprised me, because I put our team in pressure situations in practice every day. Fortunately, we hit enough at the end to make it count.”
“We knew what to expect when things got tight tonight,” Belcher said. “It was just a matter of executing. Playing the tough schedule helped prepare us for these situations, but the bottom line is you still have to execute. We made plays early in the game, and then Casey made a run at us. We have to continue to make those plays because from here on every team will be tough.”
Still, Lincoln did enough to send the Patriots back to the Girls Sweet Sixteen and into a first-round matchup March 14 against Owensboro Catholic, whom they beat 65-53 on Dec. 23 in Lexington. However, the Aces played without Miss Basketball candidate Becca Greenwell, who sat out the game with a knee injury.
“(Greenwell) brings a different demeanor to their game,” McWhorter said. “I’ll have to see some tapes to see what they like to do with her in the lineup.”
The Lincoln coach likes her team’s chances, though.
“This is a special group of players for me,” she said. “They were able to accomplish a lot during their junior season, and everyone had high expectations coming into this year. They have met most of the challenges put before them, and I hope the experience they were able to get last year will carry over. It gives us a certain comfort level and lets us breathe a little easier this time around. They won’t be in awe, and I think they will play well.”