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KHSAA Girl’s Sweet 16 Day 2: Marshall County and Bethlehem advance to quarterfinals

(Photo courtesy of Les Nicholson)

(Photo courtesy of Les Nicholson)

Day 2 of the opening round at the 2021 KHSAA Girl’s Sweet 16 Tournament is underway here at Rupp Arena and the first two games have already come to a finish. I was in attendance for the first half of the day and there were two incredibly close games to get the ball rolling. Let’s dive into what happened.

If you missed out on any of the opening round games from Wednesday, make sure to check those out here and here.

Game 1: Marshall County – 56, Pikeville – 52

(Photo courtesy of Les Nicholson)

Pikeville gave Marshall County its best shot, but one of the tournament’s top overall teams came away with the hard-earned victory.

The Marshall County Lady Marshals (23-2) were able to fend off a late rally from the Pikeville Lady Panthers (25-6) by a final score of 56-52 during the first game of day two at the 2021 KHSAA Girl’s Sweet 16 Tournament. Marshall County advances to the quarterfinals where they’ll play again on Friday at 5 p.m. against Bethlehem.

Marshall County was powered by Cayson Conner, who led all scorers with 22 points to go along with four rebounds and five assists. The senior guard shot just 5-18 from the floor but was excellent from the charity stripe, connecting on 12 of her 15 shots from the free-throw line, including several clutch ones down the stretch.

Pikeville would strike first, taking an early 6-2 lead three minutes into the action thanks to a pair of 3-pointers from Kristen Whited and Kenzie Maynard. Marshall County had a quick answer, however, as Layne Pea drilled her own triple to cut the Lady Panthers lead down to 6-5.

From there, the game went back-and-forth as the score was tied up at 12-12 with under 60 seconds left in the first quarter. But with just 12 seconds to go, Marshall County poured in six consecutive points, including this buzzer-beater from Jada Driver that gave the Lady Marshals an 18-12 lead after the first eight minutes.

That shot would spark some momentum for Marshall County, as they immediately pushed ahead to a double-digit lead roughly 90 seconds into the second frame. The two sides would trade buckets over the next few minutes as the Lady Marshals lead swung anywhere from 9-12 points. Marshall County’s advantage would peak at 27-15 midway through the period before Pikeville started to make its run.

A 3-pointer from Emma Ratliff was followed by two free throws courtesy of Maynard that made it a seven-point Lady Panthers deficit. About one minute later, Trinity Rowe canned a massive shot from beyond the arc that put her Pikeville squad down just four points at 27-23 with 2:33 left before the half. However, the run would stop there.

Marshall County countered with four made free throws from Conner, and a jump shot right before the break from Pea put the Lady Marshals in front 33-24 at the intermission.

(Photo courtesy of Les Nicholson)

Coming out of the locker room, it was back-and-forth in the opening minutes. A layup from Rowe with 5:47 left brought Pikeville within five at 35-50, but both sides would endure lengthy droughts to close out the third period. Marshall County was able to balloon its lead to 40-30 as Pikeville went cold. The Lady Marshals would do the same, however, at one point missing eight of nine shot attempts.

Not only were the Lady Panthers failing to score, but they were also turning the ball over in bad situations that led to run-out opportunities for Marshall County. Pikeville registered six turnovers over a four-minute span in the third quarter that was complimented with an equally long scoring drought.

Rowe would finally end the scoreless streak for Pikeville, hitting a 3-pointer that was quickly followed up by a layup from Ratliff that trimmed the Marshall County lead down to just 40-35. But Conner came up clutch just before the buzzer, getting this much-needed layup to fall with just a couple of seconds to go. Her shot gave Marshall County a 42-35 lead with just one quarter to go.

Pikeville would remain a threat, though. As the fourth frame got rolling, the Lady Panthers got itself to within four points on several occasions, but Marshall County bounced its advantage back up to eight points before Pikeville could get any closer. Halfway through the final period, the Lady Marshals were in front 50-42 and the chance for Pikeville to make a rally was dwindling fast.

With Marshall County in the shooting bonus, Pikeville struggled to turn over the Lady Marshals. Conner connected on six free throws in the fourth quarter to help the ice game away for Marshall County, which managed to keep the Lady Panthers from getting over the five-point hump. Marshall County would come away with the 56-52 with and will move onto the quarterfinals as a result.

Along with Conner’s 22 points, Marshall County was aided by 12 points from Driver while Halle Langhi added eight points and eight rebounds. Pikeville was led by 18 points and seven assists from Rowe while Maynard contributed 12 points and eight boards. As a team, the Lady Marshals shot just 36 percent from the floor compared to 45 percent for Pikeville, but Marshall County went 20-34 from the free-throw line while the Lady Panthers were just 5-8.

Game 2: Bullitt East – 65, Bethlehem – 70

(Photo courtesy of Les Nicholson)

In what was arguably the most exciting game of the tournament thus far, Bethlehem survived a battle between two teams worthy of moving onto the second round.

The Bethlehem Banshees (26-4) were able to fight off the Bullitt East Lady Chargers (22-3) in the second game of the day at Rupp Arena by a final score of 70-65. Ella Thompson was the star of the afternoon for Bethlehem as she posted 25 points on 9-14 shooting to go along with eight rebounds and four assists. For Bullitt East, 6-foot-5 Gracie Merkle wound up dropping 27 points and 18 rebounds despite the loss.

This was a game where neither team could take off with the lead. Amelia Hodges opened up the scoring, dropping a 3-pointer for Bethlehem 20 seconds into the affair. Bullitt would counter right back with four consecutive points from Emma Egan, and she would add in another bucket a minute later to extend the Lady Chargers lead to 6-3.

Merkle would score her first bucket to give Bullitt an 8-5 lead before a pair of free throws from Thompson cut the lead back to one. The Lady Chargers would put together a mini 4-0 run to give them a 12-7 lead but Bethlehem quickly answered back. The Banshees rattled off a 6-0 run to retake the lead at 13-12. From there, it was back-and-forth to finish the first quarter with Bullitt holding a slight 14-13 advantage after eight minutes.

Hodges struck first once again to open the second quarter as Bethlehem quickly regained the lead, but Bullitt always had an answer. A 3-pointer from Selena Granado and another layup from Merkle put the Lady Chargers back in front by four at 19-15 and eventually pushed it to a 23-18 lead with under five minutes to go in the first half. However, Thompson and Bethlehem were ready to respond.

The Banshees went on an 8-0 run over a two-plus-minute span after falling down five to go back in front 26-23. Merkle would stop the bleeding with a much-needed score for Bullitt but Thompson came right back with a big-time jump shot right before the halftime break.

To start the second half, Bethlehem looked as though it might be on the brink of blowing the game wide open. Lexi Starr would score first for Bullitt but Thompson and the Banshees were quick to counter. Bethlehem went ahead by four after a made triple from Emma Filiatreau but Merkle was tough to handle on the other end for the Banshees. Every time Bethlehem went ahead by four or five points, it was Merkle or Egan who would come right back to cut back into the lead for Bullitt.

Carlie Thurmond came alive in the second half for the Banshees, drilling a 3-pointer that put her squad up by six points while hitting multiple clutch free throws along the way. At the 2:00 mark of the third quarter, Bethlehem was in front 44-38 before five straight points from the Lady Chargers made it a game once again. A massive shot from deep courtesy of Bullitt’s Lexi Starr tied the contest up at 46-46 as we went into the final eight minutes of play.

The fourth quarter was no different than the first three–if anything, it was more tightly contested than the rest. Bullit’s Merkle and Starr added the first points of the frame, putting the Lady Chargers up by four just 60 seconds into the period, but five straight points from Bethlehem quickly followed.

Both sides traded baskets over the next several minutes until a triple from Thompson gave Bethlehem a 58-54 lead with 4:30 remaining in regulation. Despite the best efforts from Bullitt, they never could get over that hump in the closing minutes as Bethlehem hit huge free throw after huge free throw to prevent a late rally.

(Photo courtesy of Les Nicholson)

Thurmond scored eight of her 18 points in the final quarter, including a perfect 6-6 mark from the charity stripe across the final 70 seconds. Merkle continued to convert shots at the rim, however, and a necessary 3-pointer from Lilly Reid actually presented a 66-65 contest with 24 seconds left and Bethlehem barely holding on.

Two more free throws from Thurmond would push the lead back to three points and Reid missed the potential game-tying 3-pointer with 11 seconds left. Thompson would hit two more freebies to ice the game away as the Banshees move onto the second round where they’ll face Marshall County on Friday at 5 p.m.

Bethlehem was powered by 25 points from Thompson and 18 from Thurmond while Filiatreau added 11 points and seven rebounds. For Bullitt East, Merkle finished with game-highs in points (27) and rebounds (18) while Egan added 12 points and five assists. The stats were about even across the board, but Bethlehem notably shot 8-19 from beyond the arc compared to just 4-13 for Bullitt.

Article written by Zack Geoghegan

Recruiting reporter for KSR. Follow me on Twitter: @ZGeogheganKSR