By Nancy LeedyKourtney Belcher remembers watching, and crying, as the Lincoln County girls played for the 12th Region title back in 2009 and lost. She also remembers how she cried as she sat on the bench with her Lady Patriot teammates as they came up short in the 2010 title game. On Sunday, the tears flowed once again after the regional championship. However, this time Belcher’s tears were tears of joy as the Lady Patriots claimed the 12th Region title with a 58-47 win over Casey County at LCHS.“Finally!” said Belcher, who had 11 points and a game-high 10 rebounds in the win. “It was hard to hold the emotion in because it’s what we’ve been waiting on since middle school and it’s unexplainable. I can’t even describe how I feel I just know I can’t stop crying. When about two seconds started coming down at the end of the game, I just looked at Ciara (Saylor), and she looked at me, and I looked at Rachel (Spangler) and tears started flowing.”Lincoln (24-9) won its first regional title since 2001 with its leading scorers, Emily Fox and Sydney Harris, on the bench in foul trouble, but the Lady Patriots didn’t miss a beat with the rest of the Lincoln players picking up the slack and carrying the team to victory.Spangler had 14 points to lead the Lady Patriots, Belcher had her 11 points and the bench provided 15 points as Lincoln punched it’s ticket to the Girls’ Sweet Sixteen in Bowling Green. Lincoln will play Clay County (31-5) in the first round Thursday (tonight) at 9 p.m. Clay claimed the 13th Region title by beating Harlan County 41-37.“Everybody has stepped up this year when it’s their turn,” Lincoln coach Cassandra McWhorter said. “That’s why I’ve said all year, we’re 12 deep. I’ve got a bench full over there and it’s a bonus, and I think that helped us tonight.”Spangler, who gave a spirited pre-game pep talk, said “team” won Sunday’s championship game. “We knew they (Casey Lady Rebels) were going to come ready to play so we had to make sure we did too,” she said. “We all worked hard as a team and played hard as a team, and we did it together. It’s unbelievable.” Lincoln had already defeated Casey (19-15) twice during the regular season, the last a 30-point rout on Feb. 17. But there would be no cakewalk in the title game.“We knew it wouldn’t be easy,” said Belcher. “No game in the region tournament is going to be a 30-point game because every team is out for blood and every team is out for that 12th Region championship.”The teams were deadlocked at 8-all after the first and Lincoln was clinging to a 14-13 lead two minutes into the second period. Spencer Sims sparked a 6-0 Lady Pat run with a putback and Fox followed with two free throws before going to the bench. Spangler drove inside to cap off the run and make it 20-13 with 3:48 to the half.Casey’s Tiara Cochran scored a bucket in the paint to make it a five-point game before Spangler went to the line for one of two free throws.And then Heidi Huffman delivered with her momentum boosting 3-point shot. Huffman, who had just had a triple rejected by Casey’s Lakken Miller, got the ball back after the inbounds and nailed a 3-pointer from the right wing to give Lincoln a 24-15 advantage.“That’s a huge momentum. To come out cold off the bench. And she’d just had her shot blocked,” said McWhorter. “We run a play for her to get another 3 because of the time on the clock, and for her to step up and knock it down like ice water in the veins, as they say, was huge. Good momentum going into halftime.”Lincoln started to put some distance between teams in the third quarter, opening the second half with an 8-2 run. Spangler got the scoring started with a three-point play, Saylor added a free throw and Belcher got back-to-back putbacks as the Lady Patriots opened a 32-17 lead.Lincoln posted its biggest lead of the game in the third with Chansler Gilbert bombing in a 3-point shot with 1:54 on the clock to make it 39-23. “We come out after (halftime) and run a set play, execute. We get a shot that gives us a little bit more cushion and not so much pressure,” said McWhorter. “I felt like the girls felt more relaxed at that point. We just had to continue to play and continue to do the little things and they did.”Fox hit from 3-point range at the close of the third to give Lincoln a 42-29 advantage going into the final frame.Jasmine Johnson, who had a game-high 25 points for Casey, drilled a 3-point shot and sank two free throws to get the Lady Rebels within 42-34 early in the fourth quarter. Casey had the chance to make it a six or five-point game after a Fox miss but turned the ball over.Huffman sank two foul shots and Sims followed with a three-point play to edge Lincoln back up 47-34 with 5:41 to play. Casey pulled within nine in the last 90 seconds but got no closer as the Lincoln celebration finally started.“I didn’t want to celebrate too early,” said Spangler. “I knew, from past experience, that Casey is a team that doesn’t give up. We knew they’d keep battling.”Belcher reserved her celebration until the last few seconds ticked away.“I knew we definitely had it as soon as 10 seconds started going down and she (McWhorter) started putting all the subs in,” Belcher said. “I thought the freshmen are going to come in, we’re not going to lose anything and we’re going to be just fine.”McWhorter, who couldn’t hold back a smile as the fourth quarter played out, said she was pleased with her team’s patience in earning the win.“I told the girls it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon. It’s going to take a whole game,” she said. “It’s one play, one shot, one rebound, one assist, one pass at a time. It’s a championship game no matter who you’re playing. We knew Casey was going to come ready. They were going to make runs. They were not going to back down, and it’s going to take the whole game And our girls responded to that.”Lincoln shot 49 percent for the game, going 19-for-39 from the field, 4-for-14 from three, and went 9-for-18 at the charity stripe.Casey was at 37 percent overall on 15-for-41 shooting, 4-for-16 from three. The Lady Rebels went 7-for-12 at the free throw line.Lincoln outrebounded Casey 27-19. Both teams had 17 turnovers, three assists and six steals.
Lincoln claims 12th Region championship with 58-47 win over Casey
The Lincoln Lady Patriots were a blur of excitement as they rushed the floor to collect their 12th Region championship trophy from LCHS principal Tim Godbey after Sunday¿s 58-47 win over Casey County.