DANVILLE — Lincoln County girls basketball coach Cassandra McWhorter opened Monday’s practice by posing two questions to her five seniors:¿‘Are you ready for this to be your last practice?’ and ‘Are you ready for tomorrow night to be your last game?’
The seniors – Kourtney Belcher, Emily Fox, Chansler Gilbert, Sydney Harris and Ciara Saylor – told their coach that they did not want them to be their last. And they weren’t. The defending champions of the girls’ 45th District Tournament are still in the hunt for a repeat title.
The Lady Patriots, winners of five straight district titles and ranked No. 16 in Dave Cantrall’s Rating the State, earned a shot at a sixth title by knocking off Garrard County 66-52 in the semifinal round Tuesday at Boyle County’s Rebel Arena.
“I just wanted to put those thoughts in their head about a last practice or last game because in basketball anybody cane be beat on any given night,” McWhorter said. “If you don’t win the game Tuesday night, it’s all over. I didn’t want it to be over for them.”
The Lady Patriots, after trailing 13-12 at the end of the first quarter, exploded on an 18-5 scoring run in the second quarter to put some distance between themselves and the Lady Lions. And the 30-18 lead at the half gave Lincoln (23-5) all the cushion it needed for the win.
“That second quarter was huge,” McWhorter said. “Scott (Bolin, Garrard’s coach) had his team ready for us. It was a good ballgame and, if we don’t have that second-quarter charge, it’s a tight ballgame.”
Bolin acknowledged he did have his team ready, but that he also knew knocking off the defending champs would be a tough challenge.
“I knew we were going to have to be at 100 percent tonight and we were at times, but to sustain it for 32 minutes against a team like that is tough,” he said. “All the credit to Lincoln County. We enjoyed the challenge of trying to dethrone them but, good gracious, they’re good. They have all the pieces, the star power, the role players, the bench, the coaching. They have it all.”
Sydney Harris scored a game-high 24 points, leading three Lincoln players in double figures as the Lady Patriots earned a spot in Friday’s district final and a berth in next week’s 12th Region Tournament at Pulaski County. She also had eight rebounds and two assists.
Kourtney Belcher contributed 16 points, six rebounds and three assists in the Lincoln win and Emily Fox, despite getting in foul trouble early, finished with 15 points and five rebounds. Rachel Spangler fell short of double digits with just five points, but she took control on the boards, grabbing a game-high 13 rebounds. She also had four assists.
“Sydney’s 7 of 12 and 4-for-4 perfect for 24 points. Emily sits the majority of the first half with two fouls and she finishes with 15 points. Rachel had 9 rebounds at the half and finishes the game with 13 boards.
And Kourtney played a heckuva defense and had 16 points,” said McWhorter. “Our girls played well and everybody contributed in some way. It’s like I’ve said all year, if we can get three in double figures we’re hard to beat.”
Belcher scored 10 of her total points in the first half, collecting three baskets in the first quarter and two more in Lincoln’s game-opening second-quarter run.
Belcher’s first-quarter buckets plus a Ciara Saylor 3-pointer helped Lincoln to a 9-6 lead and Spangler drained a trey late to make it 12-11. But Garrard’s Autumn Murray, who had 17 points, closed the quarter scoring with a jumper to edge the Lady Lions ahead 13-12 after one.
Fox got the second quarter started by bombing in the first of her three 3s for the night to put Lincoln on top to stay, and ignite the 18-5 run. Belcher added her two goals and Chansler Gilbert had one while Harris knocked down nine points, including a 3-pointer to end the half with Lincoln up 30-18.
“It’s times like that that makes it so tough,” Bolin said of the scoring surge. “You get tired and you play so hard on the defensive end. They have so many people that you have to pay attention to that it is really tough.”
Lincoln shot 46 percent (6-for-13) from the field in the second quarter and went 4-for-4 at the foul line. Overall, the team stayed at 46 percent on 25-for-54 shooting.
Garrard, which shot 40 percent (21-for-53) overall from the field, got just 2 of 13 shots to fall in the second quarter. Devin Conley, who led Garrard with 20 points, scored off a jumper and Murray hit inside.
The Lady Patriots may have worn down the Lady Lions (17-8) in the second quarter, but they didn’t wear down the fight as Garrard battled back in the third quarter.
Lincoln had opened up a 39-24 lead off a Fox 3-pointer and field goal and two Harris buckets when Garrard fired back. Kelly Smith, who finished with 11 points and 10 rebounds, and Conley each knocked down a bucket and Murray sank two free throws to trim the Lady Lion deficit to 39-30 with 3:00 to play in the third.
But Lincoln put the brakes on the Garrard comeback before they cut it any closer, getting four points apiece from Harris, Fox and Belcher to cushion the Lady Pat lead to 51-38 going into the fourth quarter.
The margin was 53-38 after a Spangler bucket early in the fourth when Garrard made one last charge.
Conley followed the Spangler shot with a 3-pointer, Smith drove inside for two then Murray banked in a trey to make it a seven-point, 53-46 ballgame.
That was as close as Garrard got. Harris answered with seven points, including a 3-pointer, Fox hit her own trey then Belcher sank two free throws and Caitlin Hall one for the 66-52 final.
“They really knocked on the door the second half,” McWhorter said. “We had that little push right before half to open the game up and we needed every point because we only outscored them by one point in both the third and fourth quarters. They (Lady Lions) are not going to come out here and hand it to you. They are going to make you work for it and they did.”
Bolin, who will be leaving coaching for an administrative job at Garrard, spoke proudly of his final Lady Lion squad.
“I’m so proud of our girls and what they’ve accomplished in their five years,”¿he said. “It’s unfortunate that we play in one of the toughest regions in the state. In the past five years, we’ve had a state champion and three semifinalists. That’s unbelievable. I’m very proud of how far these girls have advanced in the program and all their wins. We always want to win basketball games, but it’s really about the girls and building their character. That makes me proud.”
Lincoln outrebounded Garrard 38-27, was 9-for-15 at the free throw line and had 18 assists.
Garrard was 6-for-11 at the line and had eight turnovers.
Lincoln will play for the district title Friday at 6 p.m. against the winner of the Danville/Boyle County game.
45th District Tournament
at Boyle Co.; Semifinal
1 2 3 4 Final
Lincoln Co. 12 18 21 15 - 66
Garrard Co. 13 5 20 14 - 52
LINCOLN (23-5) - Emily Fox 15, Ciara Saylor 3, Sydney Harris 24, Rachel Spangler 5, Kourtney Belcher 16, Chansler Gilbert 2, Caitlin Hall 1.
GARRARD (17-8) - Autumn Murray 17, Devin Conley 20, Victoria Floyd 4, Kelly Smith 11.