Cooper guard Kendra Smith wins a race to the ball during the 9th Region championship game. (Photo by Bob Jackson)
Thanks to St. Elizabeth Healthcare Sports Medicine for sponsoring our girls’ high school basketball coverage once again this season. See all of our girls’ basketball stories here and watch for state tournament coverage March 8-12 from BB&T Arena on the campus of Northern Kentucky University.
By Terry Boehmker
NKyTribune sports reporter
Holmes basketball players got together in a circle and did a little victory dance after their 58-52 win over Cooper in the championship game of the 9th Region girls’ tournament on Sunday at BB&T Arena. After being ranked No. 1 in the region all season, they were excited about taking the title for the second consecutive year — and a little relieved.
Senior point guard Jaynice Stovall scored a team-high 17 points for the Bulldogs. (Photo by Bob Jackson)
“We’ve had a target on our back since game one,” said Holmes senior point guard Jaynice Stovall. “We just had to stay strong and finish strong.”
This is the first time that Holmes has won back-to-back 9th Region championships in girls’ basketball. The last team to do that was Boone County in 2009 and 2010. The Bulldogs will return to the state tournament at BB&T Arena and play 3rd Region champion Grayson County in a first-round game at 8 p.m. Thursday.
Stovall is the only senior among the Holmes starting five that’s on the court for nearly every minute in every game. Her play-making ability and aggressive defense have been a big part of the team’s success this season. No one was surprised when she was named most valuable player after the regional final.
But it was a good team effort that carried Holmes to the win over Cooper. The Bulldogs had three players score in double figures and they passed the ball well enough to get 14 assists on 21 field goals. They also played solid half-court defense after their usual full-court pressure didn’t work.
“I thought they’d struggle (against us) half-court,” said Holmes head coach Tony Perkins. “Of course, my assistants always think they know more than I do and tell me to press. I said, ‘Let’s see what we do half-court, they’re going to struggle.’ And sure enough, they did. Then we hit some shots and got the lead.”
The Bulldogs scored seven unanswered points at the end of the first half to take a 26-16 lead. Then they opened the third quarter with a 5-2 run that extended the margin to 32-18. During that two-quarter stretch, Cooper was 1-for-8 from the field and committed three turnovers against the Holmes half-court defense.
Cooper guard Asyah Mitchell puts up a one-handed shot in the lane. (Photo by Bob Jackson)
Cooper made a couple of runs in the fourth quarter and pulled to within four, 52-48, on a basket by Kendra Smith with 1:19 left on the clock.
The Jaguars had to foul to preserve time, but Holmes was in the double-bonus by then. The Bulldogs made six of 10 foul shots in the final 56 seconds to secure the victory.
“I’m proud of our girls,” Perkins said. “It’s hard to play with a bullseye on your back all the time because everybody gives you their best game. They came out and competed and played the way we normally play.”
Holmes shot 41.1 percent (21 of 51) from the field compared to Cooper’s 43.4 percent (20 of 46). At the free throw line, the Bulldogs made 13 of 23 foul shots and the Jaguars converted on 10 of 12.
Cooper coach Nicole Levandusky did not like the fact that Holmes took nearly twice as many foul shots as her team, but she didn’t pin the loss on that alone.
“Our girls fought through a lot and made a game of it despite a few things, and that’s all I can ask,” Levandusky said of her team’s first appearance in the regional final.
“Obviously, when you start getting kids with three fouls or four fouls you’ve got to take people out at times when you don’t want to, but our other girls came in and did their job,” she added. “Holmes just made the foul shots they needed down the stretch to put it out of reach for us, so credit them for that.”
Cooper senior forward Hailey Anderson was the game’s leading scorer with 24 points. Stovall netted 17 points for Holmes and junior forward Tyrah Englemon posted a double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds.
The other double-figure scorer for the Bulldogs was junior guard Laila Johnson, who finished with 11 points, 5 assists, five steals and four rebounds. She also did a good job on defense, holding Cooper guard Lexy Held to 10 points, eight below her average.
“Coach tells me every game I always guard the good player,” Johnson said. “She’s a tough player to guard, but I feel like I got the job done.”
Holmes lost in the quarterfinal round in last year’s state tournament. Perkins said he put together a tough schedule this season hoping it would improve his team’s chances of making it back for a deeper run.
“We’ve played good teams all year and won, and we were ahead in the fourth quarter when we got beat by Manual and Male,” Perkins said. “I’m not saying we’re better than everybody else, but we’re sure not going to be in awe of anybody we play.”
Manual and Male both lost in the 7th Region playoffs and won’t be playing in the state tournament, but the Holmes Bulldogs still have a shot at the state title.
“I’m excited and ready to play,” Stovall said. “I want a (state championship) ring, so anything for the ring.”
HOLMES 15 11 11 21 — 58
COOPER 10 6 13 23 — 52
HOLMES (27-5): Johnson 4 3 11, Graham 3 1 9, Keith 1 0 2, Englemon 7 2 16, Stovall 5 7 17, Beckett 1 0 3. Totals: 21 13 58.
COOPER (22-8): Anderson 11 3 25, Held 4 1 10, Nicholas 1 2 4, Mitchell 2 2 6, K. Smith 1 2 4, M. Smith 1 0 3. Totals: 20 10 52.
Three-pointers: H — Graham 2, Beckett. C — Held, M. Smith.
Holmes — Jaynice Stovall (MVP), Tyrah Englemon, Laila Johnson. Cooper — Hailey Anderson, Lexy Held. Holy Cross — Olivia Crigler, Sydney Thomas. Conner — Maddie Burcham, Caylee Duncan. Lloyd — Devin Cheatum. Highlands — Zoie Barth. NewCath — Lexy Breen. Dixie Heights — Kylie Brock