By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
They came into the season as a 9th Region contender and succeeded at that goal for the fourth time since 2003.
The goal is doing something the previous three teams did not. That’s win a game in the girls basketball state tournament.
The Newport Central Catholic Thoroughbreds also claimed region crowns in 2003, 2005 and 2011. Those teams lost to eventual state champion Louisville Sacred Heart (62-44), Paducah Tilghman (54-52) and Calloway County (62-57) in overtime in the first round of the state tournament respectively.
But the Thoroughbreds (29-4) play perhaps their biggest challenge of the year to open the tournament. They face the 6th Region champion Louisville Butler Bearettes (28-3) on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. EST at Western Kentucky University’s E.A. Diddle Arena in Bowling Green.
“We had a good practice (Tuesday),” said George Stoll, NewCath Head Coach. “We went an hour and a half and watched film. We had two very physical games so we gave them the day off Monday. We’ll be ready. We’ll take it a day at a time, a game at a time and a possession at a time. If we play like we’re capable, we’ll be alright.”
Butler and NewCath have two similar opponents in Sacred Heart and Notre Dame. The Thoroughbreds went 1-2 against them while the Bearettes beat Notre Dame (58-28) and Sacred Heart (50-49) in consecutive nights at the Louisville Invitational. Butler enters the tournament on a 16-game winning streak.
Stoll said the Bearettes have speed similar to Danville and length similar to Notre Dame. They are led by senior guard-forward Danielle Lawerence. She averages 14.9 points and 5.2 rebounds per game.
“We get an arm’s length away from (quick players) just giving them a step,” said MiKayla Seibert, NewCath junior. “You have to sit down and guard them. You know they have a quick step so you have to watch where their hips move and their body language. You try to tell where they’re going before they can get there.”
Butler has used balanced scoring most of the season. Freshman Jaelynn Penn averages 11.4 points and 4.5 rebounds per contest.
Seibert said Butler likes to pressure the ball the way the Thoroughbreds have done for years. The Bearettes emply traps out of their 2-1-2 defense.
“We have to make sure we take care of the basketball,” Stoll said. “That’s the biggest key. We also have to make sure we box them out because they do a good job on the offensive boards.”
But while Ms. Basketball candidate Nikki Kiernan has carried the Thoroughbreds all year averaging 16.6 points and 9.9 rebounds a game, NewCath has had others step forward recently. Junior post Alexus Mayes averages 10 points a game. Kiernan has created match-up problems with her versatility all year.
Thoroughbred point guard Michaela Ware scored the game-winning lay-up in the 9th Region title game over Notre Dame. Ansley Davenport, Sarah Neace and Stephanie Lewis scored some big points in the region tournament. Lewis averages 4.9 rebounds per game.
The Thoroughbreds are beating teams by an average of about 57-42. They’ve made 693-of-1,757 shots for about 39 percent including 135-of-455 three-point tries for about 30 percent. NewCath has made 373-of-597 free-throw attempts for about 63 percent.
On the other side, Butler is beating teams by an average of 67-42. The Bearettes have hit 773-of-1,798 shots for 43 percent including 107-of-389 from three-point range for about 28 percent. Butler has made 412-of-595 free-throw tries for 69 percent.
The Thoroughbreds have three seniors in Kiernan, Lewis and Chelsea Schack. The reserves may not see as much playing time as they’d like. But they still contribute in many ways.
“Hannah Daunt and myself definitely cheer the team on,” Schack said. “We keep them happy and pepped up.”
NewCath owns a 2-2 record against teams in the tournament. The Thoroughbreds beat Glasgow and Ashland Blazer on their way to the Gateway Holiday Classic title at Montgomery County in December. They lost to Danville in the All “A” State semifinals and Sacred Heart.