Not-so-lucky draw: WC faced tall task last week

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By Brandon Mattingly

In Kentucky high school basketball, some teams just have the luck of the draw. Other teams, however, don’t have luck on their side and, well, they draw the top-ranked Marion County girls’ basketball team in the first round of the regional tournament.

That was the fate of the 2012-13 Commanderettes, who fell to the Lady Knights in the 5th Region tournament last Thursday night.

WC’s season was nothing to be ashamed of. They posted a 16-14 record, notched seven district wins and just three weeks ago took LaRue County — who reached the region championship — to the wire on their home court.

Coach Bernard Smalley’s bunch was undoubtedly a solid unit this season. Their counterpart last week, though, was something else.
The Lady Knights were the three-time defending 5th Region champions entering this season, yet through each of their previous runs to the state tournament MC didn’t seem to be in a whole other class compared to the competition, as is the case this year.

Those teams had the make-up to win the state title if the right breaks went their way, but not this year. This year Marion County is going to bring the girls’ crown back to the 5th Region 15 years after Elizabethtown’s title in 1998. It’s been 13 years since the 5th Region housed a state champion in boys’ or girls’ basketball — Elizabethtown’s boys in 2000 — so it would be a welcome accomplishment for a region that boasts a proud basketball history.

Guessing that the Lady Knights win out isn’t exactly the boldest prediction anyone could make, even if it is being made before the region title has been decided. After all, they are the top-ranked team in the state — No. 5 in the nation according to Max Preps — are an unblemished 34-0 and made an appearance in the state championship game last season.

However, nothing in high school sports is supposed to be a lock, particularly in the win-or-go-home atmosphere of the KHSAA postseason. To be honest, calling the Lady Knights a “lock” to win isn’t entirely fair to them, but on paper, they’ve got every piece of a winning team that a coach could ask for: depth, balance of guard and post play and no shortage of late-game options when the team needs a big play.

The pressure is obviously on more than ever with University of Kentucky commits Makayla Epps and Kyvin Goodin-Rogers making their final run at the Sweet Sixteen. Luckily for them, they’ve found a way to hit another gear when the pressure is on.

That was on display on Sunday in their region semifinal, when Marion County went into halftime trailing Elizabethtown by one. The Lady Knights won the game by 22 points. There simply hasn’t been a team from Kentucky prove they can give Marion County a game for 32 full minutes with Mercy putting up the toughest fight of any in-state opponent in a 71-56 MC win on Jan. 19. That ability to take their game to the next level when the stakes are raised is the reason they’ll complete the perfect season and put the 5th Region back on top.

There’s plenty of reason for Washington County and the rest of the 5th Region to support one of their own on a quest for the championship. Some special players and some great teams have passed through the 5th Region through the years and the Marion County girls are just carving their place in history this month.

As far as WC is concerned, if your season is going to end, it might as well be at the hands of the best team in the state, right? That said, when the Commanderettes return to the region tournament next year for the fourth-straight year, they and the rest of the region won’t be shedding any tears over not having the possibility of drawing this Marion County team in round one.