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By Darren George, Contributing Writer
The third time was the charm for Washington County as they eliminated Bardstown on Monday night, 59-45, in the opening round of the girls’ 19th District Tournament.
The Commanders avenged a pair of regular-season defeats to the Tigers by seven and 27 points, riding a monster 22-point first-half effort by senior Jennifer Keene.
Washington County scored the first 12 points of the game and never looked back.
“It was a big win for our team tonight,” Commanderettes coach Bernard Smalley said. “Our team came ready to play tonight, and we knew we had the height advantage. Jennifer did an outstanding job and was able to score inside. We played a fair game, and again, our team came out ready to play.”
With the win, Washington County (6-18) set up a meeting Tuesday after press time against top-seeded Nelson County (21-7) in the 19th District semifinals.
Bethlehem and Thomas Nelson faced off in the other semifinal.
Keene was unstoppable inside in leading her team to a 30-13 halftime margin. She finished with 28 points.
“It was my best game of the season,” she said. “But I have to give credit to my team. We had to work together. We knew it was either win or be one and done, and I just have to praise God for helping me put it all together.”
The Tigers (9-20) fell behind by as many as 21 in the second half, and got no closer than 12 in the game’s closing seconds.
BreAsia Spalding’s 28 points led the Tiger effort.
For WC, Karagan Brizendine got 16 of her 20 points in the second half. Bardstown’s season ended on a nine-game losing streak.
Spalding hit a three midway through the first quarter for the Tigers’ first bucket of the game, and they didn’t score again until a ShaTonda Calbert three cut it to 17-6 with 29 seconds left in the frame.
But Bardstown was unable to knock down enough shots to counter Keene’s inside presence.
“I don’t think we overlooked them, but we definitely came out flat,” Tigers coach Jamie Neal said. “We didn’t expect them to go at us as hard as they did. We just dug ourselves too big of a hole to pull it out.”
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In their last regular-season game of the year, the Commanderettes were unable to pull off a road victory against the Burgin Bulldogs, losing by a score of 55-47.
For Smalley, the difference in the game was simple. WC’s lack of aggressiveness only produced five free throws on the night.
Burgin, on the other hand, had 37 attempts from the charity stripes.
“It’s hard to win a ball game if you’re shooting 32 less free throws than your opponent,” Smalley. “That pretty much will win a game every time.
Despite the large free-throw disparity, however, the Commanderettes still had a shot to win the game in the closing minutes.
But with four minutes to go and the game tied, the Bulldogs’ free-throw shooting down the stretch allowed them to pull away.
“They got up, so we had to foul,” Smalley said. “They just weren’t missing any free throws.”
WC’s final district matchup before the tournament did not go quite as planned for Smalley’s squad, with the Commanderettes dropping the game by a score of 60-31.
Smalley believes his team was getting adequate shots, but “sometimes they just don’t fall.”
“Sooner or later, the ball has to go in, you would think,” Smalley said, “but it never did. You’ve just got to try to stay positive after a game like that and move on to the next one.”
Facing off against the Region 5 Player of the Year (LaRue County’s Ivy Brown) proved to be as expected for the Commanderettes, but Smalley believes that his team actually showed some improvement in their 61-35 loss.
“You knew they would be a tough matchup going into the game,” Smalley said, “but our kids showed some real toughness, I thought.”
Up 15-13 by the end of the first and down by only 10 at the half, the Commanderettes continued to hang around in the game until a six-minutes scoreless stretch in the third quarter seemingly put the game away.
“When you play a team like that, you’ve got to match them basket for basket,” Smalley said. “We just couldn’t do that.”