By Terry Boehmker
NKyTribune sports reporter
Holmes junior guard Laila Johnson is one of the best defensive players in the state, according to coach Tony Perkins. He should be pretty happy with what she can do on the offensive side as well.
Holmes junior guard Laila Johnson scored six points during a 13-0 run in the third quarter against Grayson County.
In the opening round of the St. Elizabeth Healthcare/KHSAA girls’ state basketball tournament, Johnson was 5-for-6 from the field and scored a team-high 14 points to help Holmes defeat Grayson County, 45-32, on Thursday at BB&T Arena.
Johnson got six points during the third quarter when the Bulldogs went on a run that opened up a 32-19 lead. Grayson County trimmed that margin to 36-30 early in the fourth quarter, but Holmes pulled away at the end.
The win puts the Bulldogs (28-5) in the state quarterfinals for the second consecutive year. They will play Henderson County (29-5) at 8 p.m. Friday.
Johnson was the only double-figure scorer for Holmes in its first-round victory. The six points she got in the third quarter keyed a 13-0 run that pretty much decided the game.
“Coach was just telling me that I had to attack,” she said. “He was telling me to jump fake and finish, so I was really looking for gaps to attack.”
Johnson’s defensive assignment was Grayson County forward Grace White, who entered the game with a 16.1 scoring average. White needed to score eight points in the fourth quarter just to meet that average.
“She didn’t get any easy baskets and that’s the thing for us,” coach Perkins said. “You’ve got to make people work to score and most of the time we do. That’s how we’ve won games — guarding people — and we did a decent job guarding them.”
White sparked Grayson County’s rally early in the fourth quarter by scoring the first seven points. Holmes senior guard Jaynice Stovall picked up her third and fourth foul at that time, but she stayed in the game to help see her team through the threat.
“Our kids are battle-tested,” Perkins said. “She got two (fouls) in about 10 seconds and it could’ve really effected us, but she went back in and played smart.”
Grayson County won the battle on the boards, 28-22, and committed only 12 turnovers against Holmes’ aggressive defense. But the Cougars shot 31.7 percent (13 of 41) from the field compared to the Bulldogs’ 48.4 percent (15 of 31).
“Our defense was really good,” said Grayson County coach Joe Pharris. “But when you’re playing a team like that you’ve got to make a few (more) shots and we just didn’t. We missed some easy layups and some threes we usually make.”
The Henderson County team that Holmes will play in Friday’s quarterfinals shot 51 percent from the field in a 63-53 first-round win over Knott County Central. The team leaders were sophomore forward Alyssa Dickson and freshman guard Emilee Hope with 18 points each.
“They’re a good team and well coached,” Perkins said. “They’ve been in the state tournament a lot of times and that says a lot about their program. We’re going to have to play well to be in the game.”
HOLMES 10 7 15 13 — 45
GRAYSON CO. 4 10 5 13 — 32
HOLMES (28-5): Johnson 5 4 14, Graham 3 0 9, Keith 2 0 4, Englemon 2 3 8, Stovall 2 4 8, Stowers 1 0 2. Totals: 15 11 45.
GRAYSON COUNTY (22-11): White 6 4 16, Horton 2 0 5, Saltsman 4 0 8, Smith 1 0 2, Renfrow 0 1 1. Totals: 13 5 32.
Three-pointers: H — Graham, Englemon. GC — Horton.
ST. ELIZABETH HEALTHCARE/KHSAA GIRLS STATE TOURNAMENT
(at BB&T Arena, Highland Heights)
Friday — Upper bracket
Louisville Butler vs. Murray, noon
Mercer County vs. Clark County, 1:30 p.m.
Friday — Lower bracket
Franklin County vs. Simon Kenton, 6:30 p.m.
Henderson County vs. Holmes, 8 p.m.
Upper bracket semifinal, 6:30 p.m
Lower bracket semifinal, 8 p.m.
Championship game, 2 p.m.