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At first glance, it would appear that the top two teams in the Eighth Region, Anderson County and South Oldham, are favored to be headed for a showdown in the regional championship game set for Saturday night at Gallatin County.
But there are six games to be played before then and with Anderson in the role of the defending champion and South Oldham being the top-ranked club since Jan. 1, the targets on both teams' backs are huge.
Anderson will be going for a return to Diddle Arena and become the first basketball team from Anderson County to turn that trick since the Kavanaugh boys won regional crowns in 1930 and 1931. The Lady Bearcats will take on a dangerous Oldham County team in the final first-round game Tuesday night at 7:30. Anderson defeated Oldham by 20 points in second week of the season and will be a solid favorite again, but Anderson coach Tony Kays says the high-scoring Lady Colonels will present some problems.
“They are still getting up and down the court,” Kays said Sunday. “They press the entire game and score a lot of points. It will be a challenge to slow them down in transition and to handle their press.”
Oldham averages more than 61 points a game – a relatively high figure in girls' high school basketball – and has four players scoring in double figures, led by freshman Ashley McMurtrey at 16.7 points a game.”
Senior Ericka Hardin, junior Emily Melton and sophomore Jessica Leanhart are also scoring in double figures.
Anderson's opener is not a pushover, but one the Lady Bearcats will be a solid favorite to win. After a bit of a mid-season funk, Anderson has won eight of its last nine, with only two of those victories having a margin of less than 10 points. Both were nine-point wins.
Oldham is 5-5 in its last 10 games, including a 70-57 loss to South Oldham in the 29th District final.
The other two teams in the lower bracket are Owen County (22-5) and Simon Kenton (16-10). Owen has won nine of its last 10 but the one was a 54-36 loss to Anderson in the final week of the season at Owen. The Lady Rebels, who boast the Eighth Region's player of the year, Rianna Gayheart, did whip Anderson 54-41 on Anderson's home court in mid-January.
Simon Kenton, which has been to four of the last five Eighth Region championship games, has posted a rather pedestrian – by Simon Kenton standards, at least – 16-10 record and dropped a four-point decision to Walton-Verona in the 32nd District final. Yet, Coach Jeff Stowers' system is predicated on pressure defense, which can go a long way in tournament play. The Pioneers' best performance in the last month of the season was probably a 12-point win over a 22-win Campbell County team.
Owen and Simon Kenton could be the closest matchup in the first round.
South Oldham has lost just once in its last 17 games, a 49-48 setback at Walton-Verona. If form holds, South will get a chance to avenge that loss in Friday's first semi-final.
At 21-5, South has been ranked at the top of the region's computer polls for the last two months, but the Dragons have a dangerous first round matchup with an athletic, but young, Collins team.
Walton-Verona, which features Kelli Dixon, is favored to handle Gallatin County in Monday's second game, but playing on its home court, Gallatin could make a game of this one.
I will be tweeting at Twitter.com/ANewsJPHerndon from the Anderson County games and you can listen to all Eighth Region Tournament games at www.pegasussportsky.com.
Monday, Feb. 28
South Oldham (21-5) vs. Collins (15-14), 6 p.m.; Walton-Verona (22-8) vs. Gallatin Co. (17-9), 7:30 p.m.
Tuesday, March 1
Owen County (22-5) vs. Simon Kenton (16-10), 6 p.m.; Anderson Co. (21-8) vs. Oldham Co. (16-11), 7:30 p.m.
Friday, March 4
Semifinals, 6 and 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, March 5
Championship game, 7 p.m.