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It is now down to three games for the Anderson County girls' basketball team.
Three Eighth Region Tournament games to put an exclamation point on a historic season or to have a bitter ending.
Anderson, sporting a 29-1 record and riding a 21-game winning streak that is the longest ever for any of the school's boys' or girls' teams, is a solid, but not prohibitive favorite to fulfill the Lady Bearcats' mission, a berth in the Girls' Sweet 16 at Western Kentucky University. “Destination Diddle,” the team's rallying cry all season, resumes Thursday night when the Lady Bearcats take on Grant County in the final first round game of the Eighth Region Tournament at North Oldham High School. Tip-off is set for 7:30 p.m.
Anderson says it is ready to go.
“I am more than ready,” senior Kali Whiteside said with a big smile. “I was born ready.”
Eighth Region Player of the Year Makenzie Cann added, “I am very excited about the region,”
After an impressive December, the Lady Bearcats were ranked at the top of the region in every computer ranking after Jan. 1. They climbed to No. 2 in every statewide poll, only behind undefeated Marion County, a team with a pair of University of Kentucky signees and ranked in the nation's Top 10.
While Walton-Verona, the pre-season regional pick, suffered some injuries and looked vulnerable, Simon Kenton, the team that sent Anderson home early last year, began creeping up in the polls and by the end of the year was firmly entrenched in the state's Top 15.
When the regional tournament draw was announced Sunday afternoon, the Lady Bearcats and Simon Kenton had ended up in opposite brackets and, on paper at least, appeared headed for their fourth regional title clash in six years. But there are six games to be played before that possible matchup.
“I thought it was a three-dog race with Anderson, Simon Kenton and Walton-Verona, but now with Walton out, that kind of opens things up,” Collins coach Phillip Conder said Friday, moments after Anderson had beaten his team for the 30th District championship.
Walton-Verona, the two-time defending champ, bit the dust last week when Grant County pulled a 40-39 upset in the 32nd District Tournament. Walton-Verona had beaten Grant by 46 and 25 points during the regular season. Simon Kenton routed Grant, 60-26, in the 32nd District final.
Ironically, Anderson opens the tournament against that same Grant team which features all-region selection Billie Hearn, a 6-foot-1 senior who will be heading to Morehead State next year. Hearn averages 15 points and seven rebounds a game. The Lady Braves, 16-11 on the year, also have a nice guard in sophomore Macy Wright. Coach Shawn West had been an assistant with the Grant boys' program for eight years before moving across the aisle this year.
“Grant is a team that has really improved over the course of the season, as evidenced by their win over Walton,” says Anderson assistant coach Clay Birdwhistell, who scouted the Grant-Simon Kenton game. “They have an outstanding post player in Hearn and a nice point guard in Wright. They play several different zones and will be a tough test. At this point in the season, every game will be tough.”
Anderson will be heavily favored, however, to move on to play the winner of Gallatin County and Oldham County, a rematch of a game won by Oldham, 45-43 on its home court in mid-January. Gallatin, however, is favored to turn the tables this time.
“The team you have to watch out for is Gallatin,” Conder said. “They have two of the best guards I have seen this year.”
He's referring to the Dossett sisters, Brooke, a junior, and Hannah, a sophomore. Both are deadly shooters, who led Gallatin to a 20-point lead on Collins before the Titans fell 64-53 earlier this month.
Oldham, which Anderson routed in the second week of the season, also has a strong guard in junior Ashley McMurtrey.
Meanwhile Simon Kenton is expected to get past Owen County Wednesday night and the South Oldham-Collins winner in Monday's semi-final.
But Collins, Anderson's district foe which has never beaten the Lady Bearcats, would like to get one more crack at getting that program's first win over Anderson.
“I am hoping to get one more shot at them,” Conder smiled.
**A win Thursday night would tie the Anderson County school record for wins in a season by any basketball team. The 1971 Bearcat boys' team that advanced to the state championship game finished 30-3.
**Anderson will be gunning for the school's fourth Girls' Sweet 16 trip. Anderson won the Eighth Region in 1975, the inaugural year of revived girls' basketball in Kentucky, 1978 and 2010.
Anderson was regional runner-up in 1976, 2008, 2009 and 2011.
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