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The Shelby County girls’ basketball team put up a fight Friday night in the 30th District Tournament final.
The Rockets, however, couldn’t knock out – or knock off – state heavyweight Anderson County.
The Bearcats, the No. 3 team in the final Associated Press poll of the regular season and last year’s state runner-up, captured their sixth consecutive district title with a 57-35 triumph at Mike Casey Gymnasium.
It wasn’t as easy as it has been in the past, though.
“I think we went out there and battled them,” Shelby County Coach Mike Sowers said. “One of the goals for the girls was to go out there and let them know that they were out there.”
Anderson County (24-4) entered the district final with 10 consecutive victories over the Rockets, the past seven (since Shelby County split) by an average of 32.1 points. Friday’s 22-point victory wasn’t indicative of the game, however.
The Bearcats led by only three points at the end of the first quarter (in which the Rockets had a 5-point lead early on), 10 at halftime and 12 at the end of three periods before outscoring Shelby, 16-6, in the final frame.
“We wanted to play loose, play hard and have fun,” Rockets junior point guard Katie Hudgens said. “It was good ‘til the third quarter.”
It was a great start for Shelby County (18-9), which lost, 72-49, at Anderson on Dec. 18 and, 65-32, Feb. 6 in Casey Gym. A rebound basket by senior forward Nikki Simmons and a 3-pointer by junior forward Savannah Raizor gave the Rockets a 9-4 lead.
As it did all night, though, Anderson had the answer – Eriel McKee, the 5-foot-10 senior forward and Miss Basketball finalist. McKee scored eight consecutive points (of her game-high 33) after Shelby took its early lead.
Despite a turnover-plagued stretch late in the first quarter and early in the second by the Rockets, Raizor’s layup near the midway point of the latter pulled them to four (20-16).
“The first one and half quarters we played extremely well,” Sowers said.
Shelby County could’ve pulled closer, but it missed a series of shots, a couple at point-blank range. Rockets junior forward Mackenzie Raizor, who picked up two fouls in the first quarter, was whistled for her third with 2:26 to play in the second period as Anderson increased its lead to double digits, 27-17.
The Bearcats, who led, 30-20, at halftime, went up by 15 midway through the third quarter before the Rockets rallied.
Mackenzie Raizor hit back-to-back baskets, then Hudgens hit a 3-pointer to cut Anderson County’s lead to eight, 37-29.
Once again, though, McKee responded. The Morehead State recruit scored six consecutive points, then fellow Miss Basketball finalist Makenzie Cann hit a 3-pointer 54 seconds into the fourth quarter to make it 46-29.
The Bearcats rolled from there.
“We finish some easy ones, don’t turn it over as much and hit some free throws, you’re probably looking at a single-digit game,” said Sowers, whose team was 7-for-16 from the foul line.
Senior guard Destiny Stewart added nine points and Cann, a Cincinnati signee, eight for Anderson. The Bearcats struggled from the foul line as well, going just 10-for-23.
The Raizor twins scored nine points apiece and Simmons added eight for Shelby County.
“I think tonight helped us really believe in what Lady Rockets basketball is really capable of doing,” Hudgens said.
Added Sowers: “Hopefully this will give us a little momentum going into next week [and the region tournament].”
The Rockets were scheduled to play 31st District champ Gallatin County (19-7) Tuesday night in the first round of the 8th Region Tournament at Grant County.
If Shelby County won it would play at 6:30 p.m. Saturday in the region semifinals against the winner between 32nd District champ Simon Kenton (27-3) and 29th District runner-up South Oldham (9-15).
The region final will be Sunday.
All-tournament team - MacKenzie Myers & Krysten Barlow (Spencer County); Michelle Roberts & Whitney Pullen (Collins); Mackenzie Raizor, Savannah Raizor & Nikki Simmons (Shelby County) and Makenzie Cann, Eriel McKee, Alex Avritt & Destiny Stewart (Anderson County).