The Owensboro Catholic girls’ basketball team is headed back to the All ‘A’ Classic small-school state championship game.
Saturday’s 52-32 semifinal victory over Harlan at the Frankfort Convention Center vaulted the Lady Aces into Sunday’s title game against No. 6 Murray, which had little trouble routing Newport Central Catholic in the other semifinal. Murray, the tournament favorite, rolled past Owensboro Catholic 45-28 in the finals on Sunday.
For Harlan, the tournament marked the best showing since 1997 when the Lady Dragons advanced to the semifinals for the first time. Harlan rolled past Bracken County and Frankfort in the opening two rounds of this year’s tournament.
“It was a good trip,” Harlan coach Derrick Akal said. “The girls got a chance to experience the final four atmosphere down there. We hadn’t made it past the first round the last two years, so I’m proud they got an opportunity to play in the semifinals.”
The Lady Aces were looking for their third All ‘A’ title in the past six years, but the previous two trophies were brought home on the shoulders of former Catholic star and current Duke standout Becca Greenwell.
“We are trying to prove that we are still here, we are still Owensboro Catholic who comes at you and plays hard,” Catholic coach Michael Robertson said. “Not to take anything away from those other two championships, but Becca was a big key to those. We are trying to show that we weren’t only good with Becca but that we are still good. I am happy for this group of girls. They have worked really hard.”
Owensboro Catholic (20-4) never trailed against Harlan (19-4) and dominated with its press and rebounding to control the game from start to finish.
Catholic, which led 27-13 at halftime, had its lead chipped down to 38-30 with six minutes left in the game, but the Lady Aces ended with a 14-2 run to secure their eighth straight victory.
“I challenged them before the game, challenged them because (Friday) we played a team a lot smaller than us, and they got after us on the boards and I wasn’t pleased with a lot of things from (Friday),” Robertson said. “I challenged them today to keep the score low, not to give up clean looks, make them earn everything they get and keep them off the glass. They hadn’t seen pressure like ours all season, and our press turned them over a lot.”
Caroline Hayden led the Lady Aces with 18 points and 13 rebounds and combined with teammate Annabel Moore to hold Harlan standout guard Jordan Brock to a tournament-low 14 points.
“With those two on you it’s not fun,” Robertson said. “Jordan didn’t like that one bit. Caroline was all over the place. She was tenacious on the boards. She’s a bulldog and plays hard and played her heart out. She wasn’t going to let us lose.”
Moore added 14 points, while Mikayla Berry and Emily Marshall each chipped in six points. Ellie Mitchell led Catholic’s pressure defense with five steals. As a team, the Lady Aces had 12 steals, forced 21 Harlan turnovers and won the rebounding battle, 39-22.
Owensboro Catholic’s size bothered the Lady Dragons and led to a bad shooting performance. Harlan hit only 11 of 35 shots from the field and was outrebounded 39-22.
“They had five or six girls about 5-7 or 5-8,” Akal said. “They were strong and athletic, and they showed it with their toughness on the boards and turning it over.”
Harlan (19-4) will return to action Thursday at home against Harlan County. The Lady Dragons can clinch the top seed in the 52nd District Tournament with a win.