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Shelby County nearly found redemption in its rematch with Rockastle County. Rockcastle (7-2) had beaten Shelby (3-6) by 32 points in early December.
But Rockcastle triumphed again, beating Shelby 43-38 in the Max Performance Lady Rocket Invitational championship game Wednesday night.
"When you beat a team by 32, it's hard to get your girls motivated," Rockcastle coach Chrysti Noble said. "[Shelby] came ready to play. I think our girls realized that after the first half."
Shelby led 24-21 at halftime. The first half was a track meet between the two quick teams. Down 21-15, the Lady Rockets made a big run to take the lead. Taylor Shaw hit a 3-pointer and scored another bucket, and Dee Dee Davis made two free throws.
Switching to a man defense from zone helped shut down Rockcastle's offense.
"We started out in our match-up zone, but they went on a 5-0 run on us there," Shelby coach Phillip Conder said. "I didn't want to dig a hole early, so we switched. I was really impressed with how the girls played that."
The Lady Rockets opened the third quarter with back-to-back threes from Leeara Cardwell and Davis. But momentum quickly shifted at the hands of Rockcastle's Sara Hammond.
Hammond, a 6-foot-2 junior, helped Rockcastle briefly retake the lead in the third dominating the post at both ends of the floor. She scored eight in her team's 11-point run in the third. She also picked up two of her game-high nine blocks.
Hammond finished with 14 points and 17 rebounds, and was named the tournament MVP.
"Aaliyah [Wells] did a good job on her tonight," Conder said. "She's a legitimated Division I player. It's tough to contain someone who's real athletic, agile and can run the five spot and also run the one spot easily."
Wells' layup tied the game at 32 with 26 seconds left in the third quarter, but the Lady Rockets had a tough fourth quarter in front of them. There was a scoreless three minutes with Shelby trailing by four points as the teams traded missed shots and turnovers pushing the floor.
Wells' put back pulled Shelby within two, 40-38, with just two minutes to play. Wells had another shot to tie the game on the next possession, but it fell short. Rockcastle then put the game away with rebounding and foul shooting. Hammond continued to control the boards, and Jackie Alexander hit two free throws with 13 seconds remaining to put the win away for Rockcastle.
"A couple rebounds here or there, a couple free throws or layups, and we're talking about a win instead of a loss," Conder said. "We let that one get away from us."
Still, to be so close to beating a strong team like Rockcastle -- ranked ninth in Kentucky by MaxPreps -- shows the Lady Rockets have improved a lot in a short time.
"It shows they've taken things to heart, and they want to represent this community, this school better," Conder said. "I thought they came out and did an excellent job."
MVP Sara Hammond, Rockcastle County
Aaliyah Wells, Shelby County
Marissa Raisor, Shelby County
Ashley Spratt, Louisville Male
Rianna Gayheart, Owen County
Jamie Cummings, Barren County
Megan Cureton, Butler
Jackie Alexander, Rockcastle County
Lawrence, Rockcastle County
Sydney Brown, Anderson County
Shanice Carbon, Owensboro
Player FG FT Pt
Raisor 1 0-2 3
Davis 1 2-2 5
Shaw 3 2-3 9
Wells 8 0-1 16
Cardwell 2 0-2 5
Hammond 6 2-3 14
Alexander 3 2-2 8
Abney 2 1-2 6
Burton 2 0-0 4
Lawrence 5 1-3 11