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Lady Hawks fall to E'town in region quarterfinal

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By Chuck Jones

LEBANON - The LaRue County Lady Hawks appeared to take one small step
this season, but it was a giant leap for the program.
The Lady Hawks saw their record-setting season come to a close Friday
night as they fell to the Elizabethtown Lady Panthers, 56-44 in the
Girls' 5th Region Basketball Tournament at Marion County High School's
Roby Dome in front of a standing-room only crowd.
"It was special," LaRue County senior Valerie Whitlock said of the
season. "The players, the coaches, the community ... the community
support was outstanding. I'm so glad to be apart of it.
"My first year we won like five games, then 8 and 14 and 14," she added.
"To win 27 games this year, it's unbelievable. I can't describe how
amazing this season was."
How remarkable was the Lady Hawks' season?
LaRue County, which finished with a 27-4 record, set a school record for
wins in a season, smashing the previous mark of 22 by the 1994-95 squad.
The Lady Hawks had winning streaks of 14 and 10 games.
The Lady Hawks won the Girls' 18th District Basketball Tournament for
the first time since 2004. They advanced to the region semifinals for
the first time since 1999 with their 53-46 victory over Washington
County last Tuesday.
"This was a big step for the program," LaRue County freshman Ivy Brown
said. "It was awesome to get the program back on its feet. This is where
it needs to be."
Coach Travis Wootton, who is in his sixth season with the program, was
voted the Girls' Coach of the Year by region coaches. Brown and
eighth-grader Alexis Brewer were named to the all-region team.
"It's the best season in LaRue County girls' basketball history,"
Wootton said. "That pretty much sums it all up."
Senior Lyndsay Whitlock said the goal this season was to go out with
bang.
"I told myself, and I'm sure Valerie told herself, this is my last year
and I'm going to go out swinging," Lyndsay said. "We wanted to make some
noise."
The Lady Hawks certainly did that. They went 7-1 in district play with
their only loss coming to Hart County on the road on Dec. 10.
LaRue County was 14-3 against region competition. The Lady Hawks also
won the KME Classic at Trigg County, topping Lone Oak in the
championship game.
"I've set some individual records and so did a couple of other players,
but we broke all our team goals," Lyndsay said. "That's the best thing.
I mean we broke records; our wins were through the roof. This group of
girls was so special.
"This was the best basketball team I've been a part of," she added. "I
remember being a little girl watching LaRue County basketball. I hope
kindergarten girls say, 'Remember those twins. I want to be like them.'
It's great to be a Lady Hawk. If you're not, you're missing out. It's
awesome."
LaRue County got off to a good start against Elizabethtown, building a
14-10 lead after the first quarter. After a layup by Brewer with 6:52
left in the second quarter, the Lady Hawks went cold from the field,
missing seven of their next eight shots. Elizabethtown took advantage,
using a 19-3 run to close the first half to take a 31-19 lead.
The Lady Hawks closed the gap to eight on two occasions in the second
half - the last after a Brown 3-pointer with 7:20 remaining.
Elizabethtown, though, made 9-of-11 free throws in the 6:11 to seal the
victory.
Brown finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds, while Brewer added 10
points and six boards. Valerie had nine points, seven rebounds and three
assists and Lyndsay chipped in with six.
The Lady Hawks will have to replace the Whitlock twins, the only
seniors on the team. The Whitlocks have been fixtures on the team since
Wootton took over and he got choked up just talking about them.
"They've been with me every step of the way," Wootton said. "They've
meant so much to the program. Words can't give them justification. I
told them everyone in LaRue County saw their last game."
Losing only two seniors has raised expectations for the program next
season.
"I'm super excited for the future," Brown said. "We're losing Valerie
and Lyndsay and they've been the foundation for six years. We're losing
a lot of leadership. Those are big shoes to fill. It's going to be hard
at first, but we want to make it further next year."
Three starters - junior Nancy Howell, Brown and Brewer - will be back
next season. Junior Shana Zajdel, who missed 10 games due to an injury,
should have an expanded role next season. Sophomores Haley Holt and
Alisha Durbin and freshman Allison Evans all saw playing time in the
region tournament and will be counted on heavily next season.
"We have a lot of good young players coming back," Wootton said. "We've
set the bar high. I really like the team we have coming back."