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Rupp Arena Bound!

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Lady Mustangs advance to state final, win streak now at 64

By John Herndon

One more step.

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That is all that stands between the Anderson County Middle School girls' basketball team and a state championship.

Whitley County is the only obstacle left for the Lady Mustangs as they won the first four games of the eighth-grade state tournament by an average of nearly 21 points over the weekend at the Kentucky Basketball Academy in Lexington.

The Lady Mustangs ran their winning streak to 64 games against other teams of their own age and can finish their middle school careers undefeated with a win over Whitley on Nov. 27.

The game will be played at Rupp Arena as part of a day-long hoops fest featuring high school teams from around the state. Tip-off for the Lady Mustangs game is at 3 p.m.

Anderson might have saved its best for last with an impressive 42-27 win over Louisville Crosby in the semifinals on Sunday.

“The game was a total team effort,” said Anderson coach Clay Birdwhistell. “Physically, we stood our ground to a very imposing team that had run through everyone. Our kids did not turn the ball over and delivered our best half court man (-to-man defense) of the season.”

Anderson was never in trouble against a team that some thought might get the best of the Lady Mustangs.

Mackenzie Cann led Anderson with 23 points, but Birdwhistell said that was just part of the story. “Her defense and rebounding were just as important,” he said. “I can't say enough about the heart shown by this group. I told them before the game, 'win or lose, leave everything on the floor.' That is exactly what they did.”

Early on Sunday morning, the Lady Mustangs whipped Casey County 50-35, pulling away from one of the stronger programs in the state during the final 12 minutes.

“We started out a little sluggish,” Birdwhistell said. “The score was 24-18 at the half. We went on an 18-0 run for the third quarter and were able to rest some kids.”

Cann again led Anderson with 18 points while Destiny Stewart added 12 and Eriel McKee scored 11.

On Saturday, Anderson rolled past A.B. Combs, of Perry County, 52-17. McKee led Anderson with 18 points while Cann scored 10.

“It was a total team effort,” Birdwhistell said. “Everyone was on the same page and wanted to send a statement. When you have a team full of kids who care about the scoreboard instead of the scorebook, you have something special.

“A.B. Combs had a really nice player and I was very pleased with our defense.”

In Saturday's second game, the Lady Mustangs routed Magoffin County 49-31 in a game not nearly as close as the score indicates as Anderson “played one of the best first quarters of the year,” according to Birdwhistell.

Anderson scored the first 23 points and led 36-4 at the half. McKee and Cann led Anderson with 17 and 11 points, respectively, despite both sitting out the entire second half.

“Our kids have been working every day since July for this opportunity,” Birdwhistell said. “All the hills they ran, the medicine balls they threw and the slides they did were to have a shot to to to Rupp. Now, here we are. I hope the whole community embraces these kids and rallies behind them.

“They guy from the KBA asked if we thought we could bring a decent crowd. I told him, 'We're gonna bring Lawrenceburg.'”

E-mail John Herndon at jpherndon@theandersonnews.com.