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Photos: Holy Cross Wins 9th Region, Will Head to Bowling Green for Sweet 16

In a physical championship game that pitted two of the state's best teams against one another, Holy Cross outlasted Holmes, 53-43, in the 9th Region Girls Basketball Tournament at the Bank of Kentucky Center.  The win sends the Indians back to the state tournament for the first time since 1976.

“We've played ten top-25 teams this season and we are undefeated against all of those teams. Every game in the 9th Region we have not lost. So despite that, in some of those rankings, Holmes was ranked higher and we see that As a result, we play with a chip on our shoulder,” Holy Cross head coach Kes Murphy said after the game. “I told them that outside of the rankings and all of that, the hardware would speak for itself.”

Senior forward Deja Turner was the star of the game, leading all scorers with 22 points and coming up big time and again for her team. Turner was named 9th Region Tournament MVP and scored her 2,000 career point with a three-pointer in the second quarter.

In an intense first-half, each team had a substantial run that resulted in a close, 24-19, halftime score despite sizable leads on each sides at various points. The stat that proved most important in the first half was turnovers or lack thereof.

n the early going, the Indians looked inside to the 9th Region Player of the Year Ally Mayhaus. She used her post moves and good passing ability to help Holy Cross get off to an efficient offensive start. She scored the game's opening bucket on a post move underneath and later scored three more points on the way to a 15-6 Holy Cross lead at the end of the first quarter. 

While the Indians worked their offense more methodically, the Lady Bulldogs looked to push the pace when they got the ball and use their speed and athleticism to counter the height of the Indians. That philosophy, though, wasn't working initially as they were unable to generate points despite getting good looks at the basket.

To make their opening quarter more difficult, Holmes had to figure out a way to slow senior Deja Turner who led all scorers with 11 first half points which she achieved in a variety of ways. She pulled up for mid-range jumpshots, scored on putbacks and her record-breaking three-pointer in the second quarter for her 2,000 point.

The Holy Cross lead, though, was a tenuous one as the Lady Bulldogs went on a 12-0 run when Ally Mayhaus had to come out of the game for foul trouble. Holmes center Mo Gulley found the scoring easier with Mayhaus out of the game and got the run going with a basket and the foul off of an offensive rebound. Guard Hannah Tubbs, who finished with nine points in the game, found her rhythm with her own basket and foul and followed up with a three-pointer that gave the Lady Bulldogs their first lead of the game.

That's when Holmes really put the defensive pressure on the Indians by applying a full-court press and forcing Holy Cross into four consecutive turnovers. Once Jaynice Stovall stole the ball and converted a layup on the other end, Coach Murphy had seen enough and called timeout.

“Their pressure got us out of what we wanted to do. Our intent was to control the pace, run our stuff and execute. When we did, good things happened. When we got caught up playing fast, we turned the ball over, so overall we just had to execute,” he said.

Once again, though, Turner was the answer for the Indians and her corner three and two free-throws put the Indians back in the lead that they would not surrender. Forward Abby Hassert added a layup after a nice pass-fake that freed her up for the shot, and then an offensive putback to make the score, 24-19, Indians which would remain the score at halftime.

In the second half, Holy Cross looked to go back inside to their bigs with both Ally Mayhaus and Hassert both converting on baskets while being fouled. Holmes responded with three empty possessions on their end and when Mayhaus scored again on her own offensive rebound, the lead had grown to 31-22 and put the Lady Bulldogs into comeback mode.

And comeback they did. Holmes senior forward Alexis Mays scored on a putback herself and then had two free-throws and when Jynea Englemon swished a deep corner two, the Lady Bulldogs had cut the deficit to only one.

“They need something to catch their attention,” Coach Murphy said of his team. “So when those runs would take place, they kind of dug a little deeper and settled in a little bit more.”

Who was it to get Holy Cross back on track and carry them home to the 9th Region title? Why Deja Turner, of course. Her one-handed runner in the paint on a jump-stop gave the Indians some breathing room, up five in the fourth-quarter. That's when the good free-throw shooting Holy Cross has demonstrated down the stretch in the tournament really sealed the deal for their trip to Bowling Green for the state tournament.

“We've been shooting well throughout the season and thankfully we did it once again,” Murphy said of the foul shooting.

There were a lot of fouls in the game which made free-throw shooting vital for a 9th Region championship, and Turner, Harrell and Abby Mayhaus converted in the game's waning minutes,pushing the score to double-digits and solidifying their regional run.

It was the third time Holy Cross had beaten Holmes, after taking care of the Lady Bulldogs both in the regular season and in the 35th District final game. Holmes had won every other game on the season except for those three games against the Indians. They finish the year with a 30-3 record.

“We did the exact same things that we did the other two times we played them which was run our stuff, talk on defense, minimize gaps, straight-line drives and we did a lot better the second half,” Coach Murphy said. “We've worked hard the past several years to get to this point and despite who we would play whether it was Holmes or New Cath, it was going to have to be three times, but we have a lot of senior leadership, we have a lot of young players who fight and give what we need out of them and found a way to win once again.”

Holy Cross improves to 31-2 this year and will take on Bell County at E. A. Diddle Arena in Bowling Green at 6:30 on Wednesday, March 11in the Houchens Industries/KHSAA Girls Sweet Sixteen Basketball Tournament.

Written by Bryan Burke, associate editor

Photos by Brian Frey, RCN Photographer

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