SOMERSET - The Casey County girls know what it takes to win big games in the regional tournament, and that might have been enough to earn them one more shot at the biggest regional game of all.
Casey relied on its big-game experience to reach the 12th Region Tournament championship for the third consecutive year, outlasting Boyle County in the second half Monday night for a 49-43 victory in a semifinal at Pulaski County.
Casey will face Lincoln County, the defending champion, in tonight’s championship game.
“It means everything, especially since I’m a senior now,” said guard Jasmine Johnson, the only Casey player who will have played in all four regional finals it has appeared in since 2009. “We’ve been in this situation. This’ll make our third time being in the regional championship in a row, and we’ve been runner-up two times in a row, so hopefully this year we’ll have a better outcome.”
Casey coach Randy Salyers said his team got the outcome it wanted Monday in part because of those experiences.
“I really felt like we had three things going in our favor. One was that, and two, we had a little bit quicker guards than what Boyle had, and the third thing was Jasmine did not play against them up there,” Salyers said.
Johnson was out with an injury on Feb. 5 when Boyle defeated Casey 56-49 in Danville, and she scored a game-high 16 points for Casey (15-15) in the rematch. However, Salyers said her most important contribution was probably on defense against Boyle point guard Chelsea Gill.
“What Jasmine did for us is enabled us to put a little bit more physical person on Gill,” he said.
Boyle (18-14) struggled to make shots, shooting just 35.3 percent from the field.
“It was one of those games where we couldn’t put the ball in the basket. We’ve had a few of those this year,” Boyle coach Greg Edwards said. “I knew it was going to be tough. Casey County’s got a lot of experience in this situation. This team’s been there, done that, and they weren’t going to fold under the pressure. We had to bring our ‘A’ game, and we just couldn’t get anything to fall.”
Boyle was playing in the regional semifinals for the first time since 2001, and Edwards said his players might have been nervous.
“Maybe, because we haven’t been on this stage in a while,” he said. “Defensively, we couldn’t get the tempo the way we wanted it in the first half. ... When we don’t make baskets we can’t get the press set up, and that’s a big part of our defense.”
Salyers said a defensive switch might also have helped Casey keep Boyle’s shooters in check. Boyle was 4 for 17 from 3-point range.
“Late in the second half we went to a matchup zone and played the matchup zone the whole time in the second half. I don’t think Boyle County had seen that yet. We had played primarily man to man the second half of the year,” he said.
Boyle had 15 more field-goal attempts thanks to 22 Casey turnovers, including 10 in the fourth quarter, but even that didn’t make a difference.
“We turned them over, but the problem was we didn’t get anything out of a lot of those possessions. Sometimes we had girls open ahead of the pack that we didn’t find, sometimes we didn’t have our spacing good on the break. We didn’t execute very well tonight,” Edwards said.
Both teams struggled at the free-throw line, but Casey was a bit better at 11 for 22 than Boyle at 6 for 16.
“We’ll be working on those,” Casey forward Christin Terry said.
Terry kicked off the second-half scoring with a 3-point goal that broke a 23-all tie and put Casey in front to stay. She went on to score eight of her 13 points in the third quarter to help Casey open a 38-31 lead.
“My coach just told me to work inside, because he knew the little guard couldn’t guard me, so I had just be strong with the ball and go up,” she said.
Terry also came up big in the fourth quarter with seven of her game-high 12 rebounds — Casey outrebounded Boyle 12-7 in the final period and 32-30 overall — and she hit three of four free throws while her teammates missed six of eight.
Marlee Smith scored seven points in the fourth quarter for Boyle and led the team with 12, and Gill added 10 points.
Smith’s layup with 6:15 remaining cut Casey’s lead to 39-37. But Boyle didn’t score again for 4 minutes, 9 seconds, while Casey reopened a 44-37 lead on layups by Johnson and Tiara Cochran and a Terry free throw.
There were five ties and seven lead changes in the first half, with neither team leading by more than five points.
It was a disappointing end to a second straight season of growth for Boyle, a young team that posted its first winning record since going 17-12 in 2008-09 and its highest win total since going 19-9 in 2005-06.
“I’ve never been more proud of a team. This was a really satisfying season for me in the way these girls have come out and worked,” Edwards said. “I’m most disappointed in the fact that our two seniors (Gill and Hannah Harris) are leaving us. Those two girls put their heart and soul into the basketball program, and they stuck with it and played basketball when times weren’t good. All the success we’ve had this year can tie directly back into those two and their leadership and what they willed our team to do this year.”
Boyle County 12 23 31 43
Casey County 11 23 38 49
BOYLE (18-14) - Kalin Bottoms 7, Dee Foster 6, Hannah Harris 6, Chelsea Gill 10, Marlee Smith 12, Emma Harris 2.
CASEY (15-15) - Christin Terry 13, Katie Douglas 5, Jasmine Johnson 16, Lakken Miller 9, Tiara Cochran 6.