BY JAMES BROWN
Russell County was the sleeper to win the Girls’ Fourth Region Tournament when the postseason began, especially after losing in the championship game of the 16th District Tournament.
Through a week’s worth of action, fans of the region learned why the Lady Lakers could beat both South Warren and Monroe County. They had size inside and on the perimeter and they made the crucial plays at the crucial times. Also, they had Kaitlyn Coffey.
Thursday in the St. Elizabeth Healtcare/KHSAA Girls Sweet Sixteen Basketball Tournament, Russell County looked as if it may accomplish its greatest feat of the 2017 postseason.
Franklin County, the 11th Region Tournament winner, through the first 22 minutes and 29 seconds of the first round game looked as if it would send Russell County back to Russell Springs without much fight. The Lady Flyers (29-5) took control of the game in the second quarter, led by 10 at halftime and led by 12 with 1:31 to play in the third quarter.
Unbeknownst to the world watching at BB&T Arena on the campus of Northern Kentucky University, the Lady Lakers had not traveled more than three hours from home to go gently into that good afternoon.
The rally began quietly enough with a layup by Jaylen Elmore. She is the same player who grabbed an offensive rebound and put the ball into the basket against Monroe County in the Fourth Region title game. It was the score that essentially sent Russell County to the state tournament.
Franklin County hit a free throw before the end of the third period and led by 11 after three.
Amelia Ackerman made a shot 11 seconds into the fourth quarter then Franklin again hit a free throw. The Lady Flyers’ lead was still double digits 23 seconds into what was supposed to be the final period of play.
Elmore hit a jumper. Franklin missed a free throw, but the Lady Lakers turned over the ball, which led Kindall Talley score on a layup with 5:40 left in the fourth quarter. Franklin still led by 10.
Addison Loy missed a free throw, but the deadball rebound came back to Russell County. Loy was fouled again. She hit the first foul shot and missed the second. Kaitlyn Coffey got the offensive rebound and scored. Franklin’s lead was down to 7 with 5:21 left in the fourth.
Madelyn Preston stole the ball for the Lady Lakers then Loy assisted Coffey on a layup. The lead was down to 5 with four minutes left in the fourth quarter.
The teams exchanged missed shots and turnovers for the next minute and 35 seconds until a media timeout.
Russell County had the ball out of the timeout, which allowed Coffey to score on a layup and cut the deficit to 3.
The Lady Flyers tried to run out the clock on the Lady Lakers’ season, but missed a free throw with 51 seconds left in the game and Ackerman grabbed the rebound. Ackerman was fouled and hit both foul shots. The deficit was down to 1 point with 50 seconds left in the quarter.
Franklin missed another free throw then fouled Coffey. She stepped to the line with 45 seconds left and hit both freebies. Russell County led 51-50 with 45 seconds to play in the fourth quarter.
With nine seconds to play, Rebecca Cook made the first of two foul shots. Lashaya Carman grabbed the rebound, got the ball to Loy, who was called for an offensive foul after crossing midcourt. Franklin County was unable to take advantage and the game went to overtime tied 51-51.
The Lady Lakers led by three points twice in the first overtime. The Lady Flyers did not fold and Princess Stewart tied the game at 57-all with six seconds to play in the first overtime.
Russell County again took a 3-point led in the second overtime, but Franklin County made a free throw and Stewart hit a jumper with 30 seconds left and tied the game at 64.
Just 17 seconds into the third extra period, the Lady Flyers took a 3-point lead on a 3 by Kindall Tally. They were able to make the lead stick this time and won 72-67.
Coffey, the most outstanding player in the Fourth Region Tournament, showed exactly why she will be playing at BB&T Arena next season as a member of the NKU women’s team. She scored 21 points on 8 of 12 shooting, grabbed nine rebounds, dished six assists and snatched four steals. The 5’10” point guard can dribble, pass, get to the rim and score. She will need to improve her outside shot at the next level, but she is competitive enough to do so.
In the end, Coffey and the Lady Lakers represented their region well.
(NOTE: Stats and play-by-play information for this story is courtesy of the Kentucky High School Athletics Association.)
James Brown is digital director for Commonwealth Broadcasting. He spent 20 years covering high school sports in Kentucky and Mississippi. You can listen to his show Brown Sports Bag on ESPN 1230 AM in Glasgow at 4 p.m. each Monday. He is joined by veteran basketball coach John Butler. Follow him on Twitter @JbrownESPNKY.