Lady Eagles turn away Pikeville to take crown
PIKEVILLE — Nobody in the 15th Region except for Johnson Central saw this coming.
The Lady Eagles held off Pikeville in the closing minute to escape with a thrilling 56-51 win in the championship game played at the Eastern Kentucky Exposition Center on Saturday night.
“We managed to focus in tonight as a team and it paid off in the end,” said JC head coach Darrin Rice, who captured his third regional title, including his second with the Lady Eagles.
Ashlee Belcher finished with a game-high 17 points as JC moved to 20-12, after starting the season 3-9. Tournament MVP Alaina Castle added 13.
“I thought after the Christmas break we worked so hard as a team to get better,” Rice added.
Pikeville was playing in its third title game and first since winning back-to-back championships under legendary coach Hillard Howard in 1979-80.
It was head coach Kristy Orem’s first time taking the Lady Panthers, who finished 24-9, to the finals.
“It speaks volumes about our team and the way we battled tonight after falling behind early,” Orem, who has now finished as regional runner-up three times with three different schools, said.
Pikeville guard Kelsey Jo Tackett finished with 12 points and Kirsten Cole-Williamson came off the bench to add 12.
She replaced starter Leslie Stewart in the post after an ankle injury in the game’s opening minute.
Belcher’s jumper with 3:31 left in the opening period put the Lady Eagles ahead for good at 8-7. Tierra Montgomery’s turn-around jumper in the paint made it 13-8 after eight minutes.
Johnson Central’s biggest lead of the half came on Sammi Sites’ trey with 2:32 to play in the second period to push it to 26-16. It was 30-22 at the break.
Montgomery’s jumper gave the Lady Eagles their biggest lead at 38-17 with 3:46 to go in the third quarter.
The Lady Panthers slowly climbed back into the game and pulled even at 46 on Tackett’s bank shot with 3:58 remaining.
Jana Jarvis’s floater with 2:35 left put the Lady Eagles ahead to stay.
It was Johnson Central 10th regional title, moving ahead of Sheldon Clark’s nine.
SCORE BY QUARTERS:
PK (24-9)…...............................8 14 12 17 – 51
JC (20-12)................................13 17 12 14 – 56
Pikeville (51) – Jaden Edmonds 0(1) 0-2 3; Grace Bartley 4 0-0 8; Kelsey Jo Tackett 3(2) 0-0 12; Leslie Stewart 3 1-1 7; Alivia Geaeheart 1 2-2 4; Alexia Wilkerson 1 3-5 5; and Kirsten Cole-Williamson 4 4-4 12. Totals: 16(3) 10-14 51.
Johnson Central (56) – Kelci Blair 1 2-2 4; Alaina Castle 5 3-6 13; Sammi Sites 2(1) 2-3 9; Ashlee Belcher 5(1) 4-5 17; Jana Jarvis 2 1-2 5; and Tierra Montgomery 4 0-0 8. Totals: 19(2) 12-18 56.
All-Tournament Team: Madison Thompson, Sheldon Clark; McKenzie Maynard, Belfry; Kelly Davis, Lawrence County; Cassidy Mullins, Pike County Central; Grace Martin, Katie Moore, Floyd Central; Summer Rose, Cassidy Rowe, Shelby Valley; Kelsey Jo Tackett, Grace Bartley, Alivia Gearheart, Pikeville; Sammi Sites, Ashley Belcher, Jana Jarvis, Morgan Hopson, Johnson Central.
Most Valuable Player: Alaina Castle, Johnson Central.