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STATE CHAMPS: Holy Cross Wins Kentucky Girls Basketball Title in Thriller

Holy Cross became the first Northern Kentucky girls basketball team ever to become state champions when they beat Allen County-Scottsville, 35-32, in the KHSAA Girls title game in Bowling Green.

Senior guard Deja Turner was named MVP of both the Sweet 16 and the 9th Region after leading her team in points in every postseason game this year for the Indians.

“We fought and we fought,” Murphy said to KHSAAtv.com after the game. “We've been in this situation before where we don't get the calls, so we just focus on defense.”

Holy Cross's championship run was largely due to the Indians dictating the game to their style of play. They are a grind-it-out halfcourt offense that looks to slow the action down and work the ball inside out by passing either passing inside to Ally Mayhaus who then pivots to either pass out to the perimeter or pull up for a mid-range jumper, or have point guard Dejah McClendon do the drive to the paint and do the same.

Against Allen County-Scottsville, they were able to do that again as they churned through their possessions with deliberate passing and patient game-management. Both teams were content with slow play and a low score as Allen County-Scottsville held the ball for long stretches of the first quarter.

Gregory was able to lead the Panthers to a good start with five early points, including a nice basket with the foul off of an offensive rebound that gave Allen County-Scottsville the lead. When Sara Sutton scored on the blocks, ACS found themselves up five points.

As has been the narrative for the Indians throughout their postseason run, though, Deja Turner was there again throughout the final game to rescue her team with huge baskets. The senior averaged over 19 points a game coming into the championship and she fell back into form with a three from the top of the key, followed by a steal that translated into an Aleah Tucker layup. Just like that, the Indians were tied again at the end of the first quarter.

In the second quarter, ACS once again surged ahead when Morgan Rich and Jordan Brooks started to heat up. Rich has committed to play college basketball for the University of Kentucky. First it was Brooks in the corner for a three and then it was Rich with a step-back jumper, followed by another mid-range jump shot that put the Patriots back up five.

ACS employed a defensive strategy that dared point guard Dejah McClendon to shoot from the outside. They were determined not to let McClendon dribble into the paint. She had missed a three-point attempt earlier when left alone, but this time she nailed it, giving her self confidence in her shot and giving the Patriots doubt to leave her unguarded in the parameter. Turner followed that up with a layup from a McClendon steal that tied the game again at 16 apiece.

The Indians held the ball for over 30 seconds on their last possession of the half, when it was McClendon scoring again, this time on a spin-move runner in the paint at the buzzer all tied up, 18-18.

At the half, Indians head coach Kes Murphy said that the final shot was a great one, but that they had to get more of their kids involved on the other end.

“There's too much standing around on defense,” he told KHSAAtv.com.

Turner came out of halftime and scored on the first two Indians' possessions boosting her team to their largest lead of six points early in the third quarter. Morgan Rich, though, kept pace with another jumper in the paint. Then Rich twisted her ankle and was clearly in pain. She grimaced at the free-throw line as she made one of two. She shook it off, though, and scored a major three-pointer that cut the deficit and gave the Patriots a surge of momentum to counter the Holy Cross run.

The beginning of the fourth quarter was mostly stalling, with McClendon holding the ball for long stretches on both the possessions both of which failed to result in points. The second empty possession was when McClendon was called for a charge. The next trip down also turned into an offensive foul, this time to Abby Hassert on an illegal screen.

Neither team scored in the first five minutes of the quarter with the Indians clinging to a two-point lead and milking the clock while ahead.

Morgan Rich turned it on again, though, as she drilled a three from the corner to put the Patriots back on top.

The 9th Region Player of the Year, Ally Mayhaus, responded quickly with a basket underneath on a nice hook pass from McClendon, but Rich came back again by getting fouled behind the arc and shot three free throws. She made two, putting ACS in the lead once more.

Holy Cross's response when it got the ball fell flat when yet another offensive foul was called against Deja Turner on a charge. Fortunately for the Indians though, ACS missed its free throw.

Ally Mayhaus was fouled in the post and made one of two, tying the game at 32 with a minute left. The Patriots then suffered a crucial turnover when McClendon poked the ball away and Turner came up with the steal. The Indians then took the ball out of bounds after a timeout with 19 seconds to go.

Hassert got the ball at the free-throw line who drove through the lane and scored on a scoop lay up while being fouled, giving Holy Cross a 34-32 lead with a free throw coming up. She then made the free throw putting the Indians up three.

ACS looked to their star, Rich, for the tie, but her attempt from deep clanged off the rim and the Indians became state champions!

Written by Bryan Burke, associate editor

Photo: Holy Cross girls basketball team (Brian Frey/RCN file)