BOWLING GREEN — With 7:32 left in the game at E.A. Diddle Arena, the Lincoln County girls basketball team was rolling. Sydney Harris had gone hard to the basket, scoring 13 of her team-high 18 points to help whittle a 13-point Owensboro Catholic lead down to just three points.
But it wouldn’t last. The Lady Aces scored seven of the next 10 points to go up 56-46 and the Lady Patriots never caught up again. Owensboro Catholic ended Lincoln’s season with a 66-55 victory in the first round of the KHSAA Girls Sweet Sixteen State Tournament.
“This is not where we want to be sitting right now. We wanted to get that game in hand. We didn’t come out to a good start in the first quarter, weren’t able to put the ball in the hole,” Lincoln coach Cassandra McWhorter said. “Definitely not where we thought we would be. We wanted to get back to that Final Four and even more. We had a taste of it last year, and we wanted to come back this year and make another run.”
Cold shooting cost Lincoln its shot at a second straight successful run in the state tournament. The Lady Patriots got the shots they were looking for but couldn’t convert, going 24-for-63 from the field overall, 3-for-22 from 3-point range.
“You don’t shoot the ball great every night, and I felt our girls were ready to go,” McWhorter said. “We’d been shooting the ball well in practices. Just sometimes you have those games where the ball is not going in the hole and it touches every part of the rim except going through the bottom of the net.”
“The first half especially, we didn’t shoot it well,” she said. “We bounced back the second half and got a lot more shots to fall, but overall, 38 percent, that’s not our normal. And I think they had a lot to do with that.”
Harris was 8-for-13 from the field for her 18 points. She also led Lincoln (27-6) on the boards with seven rebounds. Emily Fox also hit double figures, finishing with 13 points, but was just 6-for-19 from the field, 1-for-7 from 3-point range. Fox also had four assists and two steals.
Lincoln, despite it’s cold shooting, battled back from a 13-point deficit to get within 33-26 by halftime.
The Lady Patriots, after going 3-for-18 from the field through the first 9 minutes, 30 seconds of the game, finally started clicking offensively. Down 20-7, Harris scored on a tipin, Tiandra Hocker added three quick buckets, two off steals, Kourtney Belcher followed with a jumper and two free throws, Fox drained a 3-point goal then Harris closed with two more buckets to make it a seven-point game.
“I told the girls at halftime that we were right where we were at when we played them (Catholic) in Lexington (a 69-55 win). We regrouped at halftime. I told the girls the momentum was in our favor,” McWhorter said. “We made a run and cut it to seven. I thought we came out and did some things well, just never could get it to where we wanted it to be.”
Owensboro Catholic’s lead continued to shrink as the second half opened, with Lincoln using a 6-0 run to get within three. Belcher scored on a jumper and Harris knocked down back-to-back buckets to make it 37-34 with 3:39 left in the third quarter. Fox got a layup off a Belcher steal with 2:33 showing for a 39-36 margin then she hit a jumper off a Rachel Spangler steal with 1:09 to play in the third to make it 42-39.
A Destiny Howard layup and two Mikayla Berry free throws pushed the Lady Aces’ lead back to 46-39 before Spencer Sims closed the half with a jumper to make it 46-41 going into the fourth quarter.
Harris drove on Miss Kentucky Basketball candidate Rebecca Greenwell for a bucket 28 seconds into the final frame to get Lincoln within three for a fourth time, 46-43.
But Lincoln got no closer.
The Lady Patriots missed seven of their last 12 field goal attempts and turned the ball over five times in the final seven minutes of the game.
“We just could never get over that hump. We kept getting stops, and we were sometimes able to score,” McWhorter said. “But our girls stayed in it. We had some runs made there. We just never could get back over and get that lead once they had established that lead.”
Kaylyn Pearson, who had 15 points and 11 rebounds for the Lady Aces, converted on a three-point play to push Owensboro Catholic (25-7) ahead 49-43. The Lady Aces, who led by as many as 12 points in the fourth quarter, sealed their fate at the free-throw line, sinking 15 of 20 foul shots in the final 5:37 of the game. Owensboro Catholic collected almost half of its total points from the line, going 31-for-40 overall.
“We didn’t do a good job attacking the rim early,” McWhorter said. “But when a team shoots 40 attempts and you just shoot six, that’s hard to overcome. That makes it tough.”
Greenwell, a 6-1 senior guard who has already signed with Duke, had a game-high 32 points and grabbed 12 rebounds as the Lady Aces outrebounded Lincoln 34-27.
Greenwell scored 24 of her 32 points in the first half to help Owensboro Catholic get the early jump on Lincoln.
“She is a McDonald’s All American for a reason. She’s a great player and she shot the ball well,” McWhorter said. “I thought we did a better job on her in the second half.”
Ciara Saylor scored the game’s first basket on a tipin with 6:17 left in the first quarter to give Lincoln the early lead, but Owensboro Catholic burned the nets for 14 unanswered points before the Lady Pats hit again. Greenwell scored nine of the 14 points then added a layup before the buzzer to give the Lady Aces a 16-5 advantage.
Two Greenwell free throws and a Howard jumper made it 20-7 before Lincoln started its comeback effort.
Owensboro Catholic, which shot 47 percent (16-for-34) overall from the field, was at 53 percent the first half on 9-for-17 shooting.
Berry finished with 10 points for Owensboro Catholic.
Spangler had five assists for Lincoln.