|Allen Ramsey Photo. Newport Central Catholic's Nikki Kiernan (24) puts up a shot in Saturday's 9th Region Semifinal contest against Covington Holy Cross. Kiernan had a double-double of 24 points and 13 rebounds in the 54-52 Thoroughbred win.|
By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
HIGHLAND HEIGHTS – The third meeting would either be another charm or go the other way depending on the side.
It turned out to be another charm for the Newport Central Catholic Thoroughbreds girls basketball team by a narrow 54-52 count. The Thoroughbreds (28-4) defeated the Covington Holy Cross Lady Indians (21-8) for the third time this season in the 9th Region semifinals Saturday at the Bank of Kentucky Center on the Northern Kentucky University campus. NewCath also edged Holy Cross, 39-37 in the 9th Region All “A” semifinals on Jan. 17 on a Michaela Ware lay-up in the final seconds and 62-43 on The Hill on Feb. 8.
“That’s the reason why we play the tough schedule we play,” said George Stoll, NewCath Head Coach. “We’ve been in a few games like that this year. It prepares us for these type of situations so we’re not overwhelmed when we get here. Credit the girls. They didn’t panic when we got down. They kept playing and executed their sets there at the end.”
The Thoroughbreds battle defending champion Notre Dame (22-8) for the region crown at 6 p.m. Sunday. NewCath is seeking its first title since 2011. Notre Dame won the regular-season game, 39-26 on Feb. 13 on The Hill.
NewCath could not pull away despite getting the 6-foot-1-inch junior twins Cessie and Ally Mayhaus to foul out allowing posts Nikki Kiernan and Alexus Mayes have big nights. Kiernan had a double-double of 24 points and 13 rebounds with Mayes scoring 11. NewCath won the rebounding battle, 31-29.
“We didn’t do a good enough job attacking when (the Mayhaus twins) were out,” Stoll said. “But we made key baskets down the stretch. That’s what we needed to do. It’s not easy to beat a good team three times.”
Kiernan has 1,830 points for her career. The Thoroughbreds needed the three free throws she hit in the game’s final 11.8 seconds to get there to win the game. The first two came with NewCath trailing 52-51. After a Holy Cross miss, Kiernan grabbed the rebound and made 1-of-2 with 2.8 seconds left to make the final score as Holy Cross’ desperation heave missed.
“I was really confident knowing the first two were going in,” Kiernan said. “With the second two, I was happy I made one of them. We all bring something to the team. I encourage them to keep pushing throughout the whole game.”
Dajah McClendon put Holy Cross on her back and scored 25 points giving the Lady Indians a chance. The sophomore made 9-of-13 free throws.
Cessie Mayhaus added 13 points for Holy Cross and her sister had four. The twins had to sit most of the second half picking up their third and fourth fouls early in the second half.
“We go against each other in practice,” Mayes said. “We will bring in taller people to go against in practice. Coach Stoll has friends who play basketball who are tall. He’ll ask them to come in and we’ll practice against them. That gets us prepared mentally.”
Missed free throws also didn’t help NewCath’s cause. The Thoroughbreds made just 17-of-33 attempts for 52 percent compared to 14-of-21 for 67 percent for the Lady Indians. Holy Cross had 21 fouls and NewCath had 19 with one player in Loren Zimmerman fouling out compared to the two for Holy Cross.
“We played well,” said Kes Murphy, Holy Cross Head Coach. “We had our chances late. The kids that got minutes stepped up. They made their shots late.”
NewCath shot a little better from the field. The Thoroughbreds hit 18-of-42 shots for 43 percent compared to 18-of-43 for 42 percent for the Lady Indians.
The turnovers were also about even at 12 for Holy Cross and 11 for NewCath. But the Thoroughbreds recorded 11 steals to four for the Lady Indians.
NewCath point guard Michaela Ware again had a big game with four steals. She also led the Thoroughbreds with seven assists. NewCath had 16 assists to four for Holy Cross.
The Thoroughbreds started the game off strong. They finished the quarter with an 11-0 run to go up 15-7 after the first quarter. Kiernan scored six during that run and Stephanie Lewis had four.
But Holy Cross fought back and tied the game when Cessie Mayhaus hit a three-point play with 4:03 remaining. The Lady Indians finished the first half with a 14-1 run to go up 28-20 at halftime. Cessie Mayhaus and McClendon had nine each in the second quarter.
But NewCath came out stronger in the third quarter scoring the first 15 points of the half. Mayes led the run with seven points as the Thoroughbreds built a 35-28 lead.
But Holy Cross rallied again behind McClendon. She hit a three-point play to tie the game at 39 with 17.8 seconds left in the quarter before Kiernan’s offensive rebound gave NewCath a 41-39 lead with two seconds left in the third.
“(McClendon) absolutely killed us,” Stoll said. “She’s a great basketball player. In tournament time, that’s what great players do. They step up. We were fortunate to get the last punch.”
The game stayed tight in the fourth quarter with neither team leading by more than two points. A Kiernan score gave NewCath a 48-47 advantage with about two 2:30 remaining before McClendon hit two free throws.
The Thoroughbreds led 50-49 when Kiernan passed to Ware out of a double-team and she hit a jumper. Ware then hit a free throw with 55.1 seconds remaining to put the Thoroughbreds up 51-49.
Holy Cross came down and took the lead again. Michelle Hungler hit the second of two three-pointers from the left corner to put the Lady Indians up 52-51 with 40 seconds remaining setting up Kiernan’s heroics.
Holy Cross should be a region contender again as just three seniors graduate. They are Hungler, Kristen Stanley and Kendall Sebastian.