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WARSAW – For the fourth consecutive year, Anderson County will be playing in the girls' Eighth Region Tournament basketball game.
The Lady Bearcats assured themselves of a shot at repeating their Sweet 16 appearance of last season with a 47-44 win over Owen County on Friday night at Gallatin County High School. Anderson will play 32nd District champion Walton-Verona, which upset regional favorite South Oldham by an identical 47-44 count in overtime in the first game of the night.
Anderson never trailed an Owen team it had split with in the regular season, but the Lady Bearcats were not without some tense moments. Anderson had scored the first seven points of the game, but after Owen cut the lead to two at the half, the Lady Bearcats eased out to a 34-23 lead when Sydney Brown took a pass from Destiny Stewart for a layup with 1:50 to play in the third quarter,
but with Owen's Rianna Gayheart showing why she had been named the region's Player of the Year by the coaches, the Rebels got back in it.
Gayheart sandwiched a pair of 3-pointers around a jumper from Hannah Neely to pull within 36-35, then midway through the fourth quarter, Gayheart scored on a drive and a jumper to tie things at 39.
But it was the last time Gayheart, who scored 19 points, would find the basket and one of only two times the Lady Bearcats were tied.
Anderson went to Sydney Brown often and the 6-foot-1 junior answered with 19 points, including a huge bank shot that game Anderson some breathing room at 43-40.
“We thought they might be playing soft on her because they didn't want to get (Samantha Toole) in foul trouble,” Anderson coach Tony Kays said of the Lady Cat strategy.
Eriel McKee scored a pair of layups on passes from Makenzie Cann, the second a runout that made it 47-42 and seemed to end things with 18 seconds left.
McKee ended with 10 points and Cann scored 9.
However, Neely scored on a layup and Brown missed on the front end of a bonus with 1.7 seconds left. While Owen grabbed the rebound and got the ball out of bounds, the Rebels could not get a good shot off for a chance to tie the game.
Anderson is now 23-8, Owen finished at 23-6.
“This is what you work for,” Kays said. “You want the chance and we have that Saturday night. Walton-Verona has some size and are very well coached. They pass well out of the post with (Kelli) Dixon and (Courtney) Sandlin.
“Dixon is a great player but they beat South Oldham with her on the bench in foul trouble. She only played about half the game.”
Kays noted the large crowd Walton-Verona, a small school that has never made the Sweet 16, brought to Gallatin County. “I hope our fans will come out Saturday night. We will have our hands full with them.”
Walton-Verona 47, South Oldham 44 (Overtime)
In Friday's first game, Walton-Verona, the only Eighth Region team to defeat South Oldham all season, turned the trick again with a 47-44 stunner in overtime.
Down 41-39 Walton-Verona's Courtney Sandlin swished a jumper just inside the 3-point line to tie things with 8 seconds left. South Oldham could not get a good look for a winning shot.
Walton-Verona's Molly Clinkenbeard gave her team the lead for good with a 3-pointer with 1:48 to go in the overtime.
Walton extended the lead to 46-41 before Jasmine Whitfield nailed a three with 47 seconds left. Walton-Verona made things difficult on itself, going 1-for-6 from the free throw line in the final 31.2 seconds, but South Oldham turned the ball over twice and Whitfield missed both shots of a double bonus with 7.6 seconds to go.
South Oldham had won 17 of its last 18, with the one being a one-point loss at Walton-Verona in late January. Walton-Verona goes to the final with a 24-8 record.