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Southwestern, Bullitt East claim first semifinal spots in Girls Sweet Sixteen



Article written by:On3 imageKSR
Photo by Les Nicholson | Kentucky Sports Radio

The first two spots semifinal spots in the 2022 Mingua Beef Jerky Girls Sweet Sixteen Basketball Tournament were officially locked up by Friday afternoon. In front of a packed Rupp Arena crowd, the Southwestern Warriors and Bullitt East Lady Chargers both advanced to the semis with wins over Franklin County and Meade County, respectively.

Only two more spots are up for grabs, which will be decided by the end of Friday. Cooper and Bowling Green will go head-to-head at 6:00 p.m. with George Rogers Clark and Scared Heart closing out the night at 8:30 p.m. But before we can turn our attention to those games, we need to recap what went down earlier today.

In case you missed any of the Girls Sweet Sixteen first-round action from Wednesday and Thursday, you can catch up through the links below.

Southwestern 47, Franklin County 40

The Southwestern Warriors were the first team to get to the 2022 Girls Sweet Sixteen Basketball Tournament semifinals with a win Friday morning over Franklin County. After beating the Lady Flyers earlier this season 54-40, they got it done again in the state tourney with a 47-40 victory. Head Coach Junior Molden continued to get production from across his lineup, but they were led today by Makayla Noritis’ 17 points (7-14 FG) and eight rebounds, along with Kinsley Molden’s 14 points (3-7 from three) and six rebounds.

At the start, Southwestern fired away and could not get anything to drop. They finished the quarter 1-9 from deep as they settled for multiple shots behind the arc. Meanwhile, Franklin County forced it inside the paint. Senior Patience Laster led that effort with four early points. The Lady Flyers were looking at a seven-point lead after the first quarter before a floater from Ayden Smiddy hit a floater to end the quarter that cut it to five at 12-7.

After some early foul trouble, Payton Acey got back into the action with eight points on two threes in the second quarter. The Warriors really found their offense with 18 points in the period. Still, Franklin County was efficient with their offense. While Southwestern shot 30 field goals in the first half, the Lady Flyers shot 47% on just 15 attempts. Pair that with their offensive rebounding that led to easy second-chance points and some solid work at the line, and there was a 25-25 tie at the break.

That stalemate would continue into the third quarter. While dealing with foul trouble, Noritis scored eight points in the quarter to try and give Southwestern some cushion. Offensive rebounds on both ends would cancel that effort out as both sides benefitted from extra possessions. After 24 minutes, this game was tied at 35 with a semifinal appearance on the line

In that final frame is where Southwestern ran away with this one. Despite four fouls on Acey and Molden, they continued to hit the glass hard as offensive rebounds led to a pair of Molden three-pointers, extending the lead to six. That was more than enough for the Warriors to pull away late.

With Laster (14 points and 7 rebounds) exiting the game due to an injury at the four-minute mark, Franklin County lost their zone buster in the middle of Southwestern’s defense. That led to the Lady Flyers mustering just three points all quarter before a pair of free throws at the end. After a game of keep-away in the final minute, Southwestern was able to run out the clock in their seven-point quarterfinal win.

With this victory, Southwestern will advance to the semifinals where they’ll face Bullitt East. For Franklin County, their season will end at 28-8 with an 11th Region Championship and a state quarterfinals appearance to show for it.

— Sam Gillenwater

Bullitt East 62, Meade County 47

After an electric Lady Chargers’ performance on Thursday afternoon, Bullitt East secured their spot in the semifinals of the Girls’ KHSAA Sweet 16.

The Bullitt East Lady Chargers (32-4) handed the Meade County Lady Waves (29-7) a 62-47 loss in front of the largest girls’ high school basketball crowd in Rupp Arena history. The contest was star-studded. Peyton Bradley led the Lady Waves, scoring 14 points on 3-9 shooting. Not to be outdone, Bullitt East big Gracie Merkle had a legendary performance. The Bellarmine commit dropped 34 points and 11 rebounds in 30 minutes of play.

Bullitt East exerted its dominance immediately. With the game tied early, the Lady Chargers exploded. Specifically, Lilly Reid caught fire. The junior point guard had 10 points in the first period, including two buckets from downtown.

Nonetheless, the Lady Waves refused to go away. The team shot a respectable 4-9 in the frame. Sage Crawley capped off the quarter with a wild basket from deep. Despite Crawley’s circus shot, Meade County trailed Bullitt East 20-9 heading into the second quarter.

In the second period, Rupp Arena was Merkle’s stage. The 6-foot-6 center put on a show, recording 11 points in the frame, increasing her first-half total to 18 points. Moreover, Merkle helped her team control the glass. At halftime, Bullitt East had six offensive rebounds compared to Meade’s County’s zero.

Consequently, the Lady Chargers had seven more second-chance points than the Lady Waves. Meade County’s trio of Crawley, Bradley and Aubrey Hardesty carried their team in the first half with a combined 22 points. Nonetheless, Bullitt East held a commanding 37-22 lead at the halftime break.

Amid Bullitt East’s endless pressure, Meade County would not surrender. Despite shooting 4-16 in the third period, the Lady Waves outscored Bullitt East 16-13 in the frame. Three of Meade County’s made field goals were from beyond the arc.

The Lady Waves demonstrated endless reserves of energy. Meade County secured six offensive boards in the third period. Further, they gave up zero offensive rebounds to Bullitt East. With the tide starting to turn, the Lady Waves cut their deficit to 50-38 as they moved into the final eight minutes of the game.

Although Meade County never gave up, neither did Bullitt East. The Lady Chargers stomped on the gas in the final frame, outscoring Meade County 12-9. A 2:30 scoring drought was the Lady Waves’ fatal wound. After 32 minutes of battle, Bullitt East stood victorious with a 62-47 win.

In the contest, Bullitt East scored a jaw-dropping 44 points in the paint. Additionally, the team dished out an impressive 18 assists. The Lady Chargers will face their greatest challenge yet when they square off against Southwestern in the semifinals of the state tournament on Saturday at 11 a.m.

— Grant Grubbs

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