Lady Panthers knocked out of Sweet-16

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By Chuck Jones

BOWLING GREEN — Elizabethtown’s dream season turned into a nightmare Friday afternoon.

The Lady Panthers rallied from an eight-point deficit to take a 40-39 lead with 22.1 seconds left on senior center Reauna Cleaver’s old-fashioned three-point play in the Houchens Industries/KHSAA Girls’ Sweet 16 State Tournament.

But Covington Holy Cross pulled a rabbit out of its hat as senior guard Deja Turner hit an 8-foot runner from the right baseline with 3 seconds remaining to lift the Indians to a stunning 41-40 upset of top-ranked Elizabethtown at Western Kentucky’s E.A. Diddle Arena.

Elizabethtown didn’t have any timeouts remaining and didn’t get off a shot before time expired.

The Lady Panthers, who finished the season 32-3, saw their 21-game winning streak come to a screeching halt earlier than planned after reaching last year’s state final. This was their first loss to an in-state team and the second time they lost on a last-second shot, the other to Miami Country Day in the Naples (Florida) Holiday Shootout.

“This team was real special to me,” Elizabethtown coach Tim Mudd said. “I never heard the girls talk about being the favorite or the pressure. We just tried the old cliché ‘one game at a time.’ I’m probably as shocked as anyone else, but I thought Holy Cross played very well.”

Elizabethtown led 18-17 at halftime, but the Indians used an 8-0 run to take a seven-point lead. Sophomore guard Aleah Tucker made a 12-foot jumper, Turner scored four straight points, and then senior center Ally Mayhaus made two free throws.

The Lady Panthers turned the ball over twice and missed three straight shots to open the second half before sophomore guard Jada Stinson ended the drought with a layup. Junior forward Erin Boley made a short jumper in the paint and then Boley and senior guard Darien Huff each hit 1-of-2 free throws after steals to close within 25-24 with 3:33 left in the third quarter.

Holy Cross pulled out to a 33-25 lead — its largest of the game — after a Turner layup with 5:35 left, prompting Mudd to call a timeout.

Elizabethtown responded out of the timeout as Boley made two free throws, and after a Holy Cross miss, she connected on a 7-footer in the lane.

The Indians called a 30-second timeout to try to slow Elizabethtown’s comeback, but senior Cessie Mayhaus missed a 15-footer and senior guard Livie Bowling grabbed the rebound. Stinson found Cleaver in the paint, who made a layup to slice the lead to 33-31 with 3:03 remaining.

Holy Cross pulled out to a four-point lead three times in the final 2:44, but Elizabethtown answered each time at the foul line. Boley made four straight and Cleaver hit a pair with 1:10 left to get Elizabethtown within 39-37.

Turner missed a layup on Holy Cross’ ensuing possession, giving Elizabethtown a chance to tie, but Stinson’s layup was blocked by Ally Mayhaus.

The Lady Panthers had a second chance to tie after Turner was called for an offensive foul with 39 seconds left, and they took advantage of it. Although Boley’s jumper was off the mark, Cleaver grabbed the offensive rebound and was fouled on the putback with 22.1 seconds remaining. She made the free throw to give Elizabethtown its first lead of the second half.

After a timeout, Turner broke Elizabethtown’s pressure before passing off to Tucker on the right wing. Tucker dribbled to the top of the key and passed to junior guard Dajah McClendon. With 10 seconds remaining, McClendon drove down the right side of the lane and then kicked the ball to Turner on the right wing. She drove toward the baseline and then lofted a runner, which bounced around the rim before falling through and breaking the Lady Panthers’ hearts.

Boley and Cleaver both finished with 17 points. Boley, who had eight rebounds and three steals, was 4-of-14 from the field, while Cleaver, who grabbed nine boards, was 6-of-10. Huff, the team’s second-leading scorer, managed only one point, while junior guard Rachel Warden and Bowling didn’t score.

The Lady Panthers were held to a season-low for points and shot just 33.3 percent. They made only one 3-pointer on five attempts.