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South Laurel edges Mercy in Sweet Sixteen showdown

LEXINGTON — South Laurel wasn’t able to knock down any field goals during the final eight minutes, but the Lady Cardinals converted on 13-of-21 free throws attempts to seal a 58-57 upset win over tournament-favorite Sacred Heart during Thursday’s first-round action of the Sweet Sixteen.

But just as soon as the celebration began, the KHSAA announced the remainder of the girls and boys Sweet 16 state tournaments have been suspended indefinitely due to the situation with the coronavirus. The KHSAA also stated it will try and seek options for rescheduling later in the spring if at all possible but not until after they have received collaborative approval from the governor’s office, the Commissioner of Public Health and the Kentucky Department of Education.

“It’s disappointing and I hate it for the kids, but there isn’t much we can do. It’s out of our control,” South Laurel coach Chris Souder said. “If we’d lost this game, it would have been devastating, but at least this way, we can have a happy ending.”

The Lady Cardinals received a 20-point scoring effort from senior guard Amerah Steele, who also finished 3-of-4 from 3-point range. Ally Collett added 12 points and six assists while Sydnie Hall finished with 11 points while making three 3-pointers. Rachel Presley tallied nine points, nine rebounds and two blocked shots, while Clara Collins came off the bench and scored six points while finishing with four rebounds.

Souder admitted changes needed to be made after watching game film this past week of the two teams’ first encounter on Jan. 4. It was a game Sacred Heart won easily, 74-50.

“We knew we couldn’t press them and knew we couldn’t do certain things,” he said. “We didn’t have Rachel the first time and she came out and hit two 3s today. We told her yesterday while practicing at Transy, to shoot the ball. I told her that if she could hit the outside shot, it’d be a game-changer. She also got some big rebounds for us, too.”

Sacred Heart coach Donna Moir admitted after the game her team ran into a very good South Laurel team.

“Hat’s off to South Laurel. They shot the 3-ball so well,” she said. “We had a tough time defending it. We had our chances at the end but just didn’t convert. It was a great high school basketball game.”

South Laurel came out strong during the first quarter by jumping out to a 12-4 lead with 3:26 remaining. Two consecutive 3-pointers by Hall combined with baskets by Collett, Presley and Steele allowed the Lady Cardinals to grab the early eight-point lead.

“We got off to a good start with Sydnie hitting some 3s and Amerah got going and Ally played well,” Souder said. “Bri took a couple of charges. It was just incredible.”

Sacred Heart came storming back with a run of its own.

Trinity Ralston’s 3-pointer combined with two 3-pointers by Erin Toller triggered an 11-0 run that saw the Valkyries take a 15-14 lead into the second quarter.

The Lady Cardinals answered with a 9-2 run to open the second quarter.

A 3-pointer by Presley combined with 3-pointers by Steele and Hall gave South Laurel a 23-17 cushion with five minutes remaining in the first half.

Sacred Heart stormed back with a 12-3 run to close out the period to take a slim 29-26 advantage into the locker room at halftime.

The Lady Cardinals hit 10-of-20 shot attempts in the first half, including a red-hot 5-of-7 effort from 3-point territory. They held a slim 14-12 rebounding edge on Sacred Heart but had 11 turnovers. Hall’s nine points led the way while Steele added seven points and Presley had five points and seven rebounds.

The Valkyries connected on 11-of-27 shot attempts from the floor while turning in a 4-of-11 effort from behind the arc. Toller led the Valkyries with 13 first-half points.

Both teams continued to trade punches during the second half with South Laurel scoring nine consecutive points to take a 35-29 advantage.

Presley’s 3-pointer at the 6:14 mark tied the game at 29 apiece before Steele connected with two straight 3s to push her team to a 35-29 lead.

Collins came off the bench and added five more points that were sandwiched in between an old-fashioned three-point play by Sacred Heart’s Ralston to make the score, 40-32 in the Lady Cardinals’ favor.

Toller’s 3-pointer with 17 seconds remaining cut the Valkyries deficit to 40-35 but Collett answered with a 3-pointer of her own to give South Laurel a 43-35 advantage with eight minutes remaining.

Four consecutive free throws by Steele pushed the Lady Cardinals’ lead to 47-37 with 6:01 remaining while two free throws by Hall with 4:25 left gave South Laurel’s its biggest lead of the game at 53-42.

Sacred Heart made one final push, going on a 10-1 run that cut its deficit to 54-53 with 1:58 left but Free throws by Steele, Collett, Presley, and Collins wrapped up the win for the Lady Cardinals.

“We were able to answer their runs, and that’s what seniors do,” Souder said. “This has been incredible. I’ve been around some great teams and I don’t know if I have seen a team do what this team has done. We beat Sacred Heart, yes, we can win it all. I thought coming in, Sacred Heart was the best team because they have all of the pieces.”

South Laurel finished hitting 17-of-38 shot attempts from the floor, including a 10-of-17 effort from behind the arc. The Lady Cardinals were 14-of-23 from the free-throw line and were outrebounded, 32-26.

Sacred Heart was limited to 20-of-52 shooting from the floor while going 7-of-22 from 3-point range. The Valkyries were 10-of-15 from the free-throw line and committed 14 turnovers while forcing South Laurel into 15 miscues.

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South Laurel 58, Sacred Heart 57

South Laurel (58) — Collett 12, Hall 11, Steele 20, Presley 9, Collins 6.

Sacred Heart (57) — Bird 7, Ralston 14, Toller 16, Clemons 15, Gilpin 4, Kaufman 1.