By Denis House
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
WILLIAMSBURG—Heading into Tuesday night’s first round game in the girls’ 50th District Tournament, questions swirled around Whitley County as to which players would suit up for Coach Larry Anderson against South Laurel.
The Lady Colonels have been using a makeshift line-up over the past few weeks due to illness and injuries. But on this night, Anderson had his full squad back, and he needed them. The Lady Colonels battled back from a early deficit, and thanks to a three from Brandi Smith, one of the players who was doubtful for this game, with three seconds left, Whitley County downed the Lady Cardinals, 43-40, to advance to tonight’s final against Corbin.
“Brandi is extremely weak right now and maybe should have not played so much, if at all,” Anderson said.
Taylor Arthur had just scored with 19 seconds left to tie the game, 40-40. Whitley got the ball to Taylor Dingess but her shot rimmed off. Kandace Craig, who had missed a good portion of the last part of the season with a broken hand, grabbed the rebound and dished it out to Smith, who drained her three with three seconds left.
The Lady Cards quickly called time-out to set up a final play. Preslie Baker inbounded the ball to Arthur, who passed it to Karli Parker. But her desperation three at the buzzer didn’t fall, giving Whitley the win and sending South Laurel home for the season.
“We didn’t get the last shot we wanted,” South Laurel coach Konnie Snyder said. “We didn’t get the ball to where we wanted it. I hate this for the kids and I hate it for our seniors.”
Three of those seniors, Taylor Arthur, C.J. Johnson and Emily Clonce, did what they could to try and extend their season, as the three combined for 36 of South’s 40 points. Arthur had 14, Clonce, 13, and Johnson, 9.
It wasn’t the prettiest of games on both sides. South led 8-7 after one, and 19-12 at the half. The Lady Cards used an 11-0 run in the second quarter to take control of the game.
But the second half was an entirely different story.
South Laurel missed its first six shots of the third quarter, while Whitley opened things with a 10-4 run, including a three by Dingess, to pull to within one, 23-22, with 2:46 left. South still led after three, 26-24, but managed only two field goals in the third quarter, and struggled from the line, hitting just 3-of-8.
Despite this, the Lady Cards still had the lead with 3:35 left after a Brittany Vandeventer steal and an Arthur basket, 32-28.
Then the threes started falling for Whitley County. A Bethany Powers three, with 2:48 left, gave the Lady Colonels a 33-32 lead. Dingess then made one of her own at the 2:16 mark to keep her team on top by two, 36-34.
While they struggled at the free throw line throughout the game (11-of-21), South’s Johnson and Clonce both made key free throw late, two from Johnson with 2:08 left to tie the game, 26-26, then two by Clonce to give the Lady Cards a 38-36 lead with 1:46 left.
Whitley would regain the lead on a jumper by Maria Johnson, followed by two Smith free throws, before Arthur tied the game with 19 seconds left. Then came Smith’s three that broke the Lady Cardinal hearts.
“Its a tough way to end the season,” Snyder said. “We didn’t take care of the ball in the second half and turned it over too many times. And they (Whitley) started hitting their threes. It came down to us not taking care of the ball at the end.”
“I can’t say enough about the fight in this team,” Anderson said. “They didn’t want this to be their last game.”
Whitley County will take on Corbin tonight for the district title. Both teams advance to next week’s 13th Region Tournament at Harlan County.
Girls’ 50th District Tournament
Whitley County 43, South Laurel 40
South Laurel 8 11 7 14—40
Whitley County 7 5 12 19—43
SOUTH LAUREL (40)—Arthur 14, Reynolds 2, Johnson 9, Baker 2, Clonce 13.
WHITLEY COUNTY (43)—Smith 11, Johnson 6, Powers 8, Sizemore 4, Dingess 9, Jones 2, Craig 2.