By G. MICHAEL GRAHAMFort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
They came so close to that elusive state tournament win.
But free-throw shooting ended up hurting the 9th Region champion Newport Central Catholic Thoroughbreds basketball team when the dust settled. They fell short by a 54-52 count in the first round of the state tournament to the 6th Region champion Louisville Butler Bearettes. The game took place at Western Kentucky University’s E.A. Diddle Arena in Bowling Green.
“We actually played pretty well,” said George Stoll, NewCath Head Coach. “We executed the game plan. We took care of the ball okay against their press. We could have done a little better job. We hung in there with them. There were some people who didn’t think we had a shot.”
NewCath (29-5) hit just 6-of-16 free-throw tries for 38 percent. Butler (29-3) made 11-of-17 attempts for 65 percent.
“We have to make free throws in a big game like that,” Stoll said. “You can’t leave points on the board against the Number two team in the state.”
The Thoroughbreds shot better from the field making 22-of-46 attempts for 48 percent including 2-of-8 from three-point land for 25 percent. The Bearettes hit 18-of-49 shots for 37 percent, including 7-of-15 from three-point range for 47 percent.
Nikki Kiernan and Michaela Ware led NewCath offensively. Kiernan finished an outstanding career with a double-double of 19 points and 15 rebounds to go with three blocked shots and three steals. Ware had 15 points recording two steals. Kiernan finished her career with 1,869 points and 1,139 rebounds.
“She’s going to go down as one of the best players in Newport Central Catholic history,” Stoll said of Kiernan. “She’ll go down as the all-time leader in blocked shots. She’s a special player. I was glad she was able to get back down here her senior year. She’s had an outstanding career.”
Danielle Lawrence led Butler with 19 points and seven rebounds. Teammate Fontasia Jeffries followed with 11 and Jaelynn Penn scored nine. Lawrence, an Indiana University Purdue University at Indianapolis signee, and Jeffries made two three-pointers each.
“She’s quick to the basket and has good strength,” Stoll said of Lawrence. “(NewCath senior) forward Stephanie Lewis draws a lot of tough assignments and that was definitely one of the tougher ones. They have a lot of depth. They’re a really good team.”
Stoll said Butler likes to use its quickness to throttle teams. The Thoroughbreds had 17 turnovers and eight steals. The Bearettes had just 14 turnovers and five steals.
The game did not start out well for NewCath. Butler led 8-2 early after a Lawrence three-pointer. But the Thoroughbreds fought back and trimmed the margin to 17-15 with 1:18 left in the first quarter after a Loren Zimmerman three-pointer. Butler led 20-17 entering the second quarter.
NewCath came within one point three times in the second quarter before tieing the game. That came with 1:05 left in the half when MiKayla Seibert made a triple. The teams entered the halftime locker tied at 26.
Alexus Mayes started off the second half with a jumper to put NewCath up 28-26. After Breia Torrens hit a triple for Butler, Mayes and Ansley Davenport scored to give NewCath a 32-29 lead with 6:01 left in the third.
But Butler scored eight in a row to go up 37-32 with 4:02 left in the third. But Kiernan scored to end that drought and Lewis then scored with 2:26 left in the quarter to trim the margin to 37-36.
Kiernan scored with 1:18 left to put NewCath up 38-37. But Lawrence scored four straight points to end the quarter and give Butler a 41-38 advantage.
Butler started to pull away in the fourth quarter scoring six straight. But Ware recorded a steal and score with 5:04 left in the game. NewCath trailed 47-40 at that point.
But Kiernan hit two free throws and Ware made a lay-up to make it 47-44 Butler with 4:11 left. The Thoroughbreds had to start fouling after Ware scored again with 2:45 left and trailed 49-46.
Lawrence hit two free throws with 1:38 remaining to put Butler up 52-46. Kiernan hit a jumper with 43 seconds left to cut the lead to 52-48.
Butler led 53-50 with 19 seconds left and NewCath had the ball following a Bearette turnover. But the Thoroughbreds missed a jump shot and Lawrence made a free throw to put Butler up 54-50 with seven seconds remaining. Ware hit the lay-up with three seconds left to make the final score.
NewCath graduates three seniors from this team. They are Kiernan, Lewis and Chelsea Schack.