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It's doubtful that anyone could have foreseen what has evolved in girls' basketball since Simon Kenton was relocated to the Eighth Region in time for the 2005-06 season.
Anderson County vs. Simon Kenton.
Or, as the northern edge of the region would say, Simon Kenton vs. Anderson County.
Back before March of 2006, they were programs that had experienced varying degrees of success. While Anderson defined the region when girls' basketball was revived in 1975, the Lady Bearcats had not won a regional title – or a district title, for that matter – since 1978. Like Anderson, Simon Kenton had been a solid Ninth Region program but had never experienced a trip to the Girls' Sweet 16.
Sunday afternoon, the programs meet in the regional championship game for the fifth time in seven years. Since that 2006 season, both have won two regional titles and both have been regional runner-up three times.
And when the ball goes up Sunday afternoon, it will be two of Kentucky's five best teams, according to the polls, fighting for another trip to Diddle Arena.
This is the showdown that just about everyone predicted for the regional title. During the season, it was not unusual to hear comments around the region such as, “Anderson and Simon Kenton are in a different league than everyone else” or “Maybe the luck of the draw will have them play in the (regional) semis so someone else can be runner-up.”
Most are expecting a barn-burner like last year's regional final that saw Anderson rally from a 10-point deficit in the final 90 seconds of regulation to force overtime, where the Lady Bearcats claimed a 70-68 win on their way to a Final Four finish at the state tournament.
Not only did Anderson rally, Simon Kenton aided the Lady Bearcats when the Pioneers went cold at the free throw line in the final minute.
This year, it could be just as close. Simon Kenton comes in at 29-3 while Anderson is 26-4, 26-2 against Kentucky competition.
It probably would not be wise to read much into Saturday's performances. Simon Kenton defeated a nice Gallatin County team, 78-61, but the lead hovered around 8-10 points for much of the contest.
Anderson defeated Oldham County, 62-42, but needed a 14-0 run that spanned the third and fourth quarters to pull away. While Anderson was in control, the Lady Bearcats were extended a bit more than the score would indicate.
“We brought our 'B or B-plus' game,” Anderson coach Tony Kays said, “I think Simon Kenton feels they had their 'B or B-plus' game too.”
The computer polls that appear in The Courier-Journal and Lexington Herald-Leader have consistently given Anderson a slight edge over Simon Kenton. That is probably because Anderson has a bit more star quality. Makenzie Cann (Cincinnati) and Eriel McKee (Morehead State) have both signed with Division I schools while Simon Kenton has no big-time recruit.
However, Simon Kenton guard Abby Owings (17 ppg) played on several Kentucky junior all-star teams last summer and is one of the best that Anderson has faced this year. Her 5-foot-5 stature is probably all that has kept a big-time offer from coming her way.
There is little argument that Cann, McKee and Owings are the Eighth Region's top three players.
It will be interesting to see how Anderson tries to slow Owings, one of the fastest players around on the dribble.
Simon Kenton figures to have trouble slowing McKee and Cann as well. Both give the Pioneers some serious matchup problems offensively.
Both teams primarily use a man-to-man defense and a regional championship game is not the time when a team will normally unveil a new wrinkle, especially defensively.
Both teams are senior-dominated. Anderson's seniors will be going for their second straight regional crown and third in five years. All of the current Anderson seniors were members of the varsity team as eighth-graders. Simon Kenton's seniors will be going for their first regional title.
It says here that personnel-wise, someone other than the stars must have a big night for either team to win. For Anderson that might be any of a number of players. Alex Avritt, Jessica Rice, Destiny Stewart, Kaci Currens and Corrin Robinson have all come through at different times this year. For Simon Kenton, that could be Christina Cook, who scored 14 against Gallatin County, or all-region performer Rachel Cox. In last year's regional final, reserve Kelsey Schmiade came off the bench for 10 points. She's averaging just over three points a game this year.
On paper, it would appear to be as close as the classic so many predict.
Against common opponents Simon Kenton is 8-1, Anderson 5-1. Both lost to Elizabethtown in the Republic Bank Classic at Lexington Catholic on Dec. 23. Simon Kenton dropped an 11-point decision in the morning, Anderson lost by nine that night.
The Lady Bearcats have played nine teams that reached regional title games, going 7-2 in those contests. Simon Kenton is 1-2 in the same kind of contests.
Anderson defeated LaRue County, Mercy, Ballard, Lafayette, Dunbar, Mercer County and Owensboro Catholic. The Lady Bearcats lost to E-town and Sacred Heart.
Simon Kenton defeated Notre Dame but lost to E-town and Newport Central Catholic.
Simon Kenton leads the overall series with Anderson, 5-2.
It should be a dandy, no matter who wins.
Tip-off is at 3 p.m.
Anderson Co. vs. Simon Kenton
2006 Simon Kenton 56, Anderson Co. 40 (Regional semis)
2008 Simon Kenton 55, Anderson Co. 51 (Regular season)
2008 Simon Kenton 48, Anderson Co. 44 (Regional final)
2009 Simon Kenton 67, Anderson Co. 40 (Regional final)
2010 Anderson Co. 53, Simon Kenton 40 (Regional final)
2012 Simon Kenton 51, Anderson Co. 49 (Regional first round)
2013 Anderson Co. 70, Simon Kenton 68 (Regional final)