Defensively, Floyd Central was the equal of Class 4-A No. 2 Bedford North Lawrence in Saturday night’s girls’ basketball sectional final at New Albany.
Offensively, the Highlanders were found lacking against BNL’s press and perimeter nagging. Otherwise, the sectional crown could have changed hands and the state would have felt the seismic shift of an amazing upset.
But the Stars (24-0) would not allow that. They shot to a 15-1 lead and withstood Floyd’s rugged recovery to defend their Sectional 15 title with a 54-34 victory. Dominique McBryde scored 23 points for BNL, which will meet No. 1 Columbus North (25-0) in the regional semifinal next week in Bedford.
That showdown has been anticipated for weeks. The Highlanders (12-12) did their best to spoil it. They smothered all of the Stars’ scorers except one, forcing them to abandon their regular offense and spread the floor in an attempt to find ways to the rim.
“We gave it everything we had defensively,” Floyd Central coach Kirk Hamsley said. “Our kids played as well as they could, as hard as they could. The kids really did what we asked them to do. You can’t fault their heart and effort.
“They really struggled with our defense. We just struggled with the press.”
The only thing to fault with Floyd was execution. BNL’s pressure keyed a 12-3 start to the third quarter for some operating space. Spreading the court and taking advantage of their guard quickness in the fourth quarter also did that.
“You have to give Floyd Central’s kids a lot of credit,” BNL coach Kurt Godlevske said. “They played hard, aggressive. I’ve always liked the way they play. But our kids battled. The kids really got after it, and that was a huge run.”
BNL, which won its 22nd sectional title, threatened to crush Floyd Central like driveway stone at the start. Brittani Rizzi and Sammy Dillman drained 3-pointers, McBryde scored twice and Whitney Wilson pounced on a loose ball to score from close range for a 15-1 lead.
The Highlanders didn’t have a field goal until Tori Kingsley connected the baseline with 2:15 left in the first quarter. That settled them down, and they ended the quarter on a 9-0 run capped by Brooke Hinton’s three-quarter-court bomb at the buzzer.
“That shot gave them a lot of energy,” Godlevske said. “I just wish we could maintain that fast start.”
With the fear factor gone, Floyd Central went to work. The Highlanders slowed BNL’s offense, backing off shooters and daring someone other than the Stars’ main trio to step forward. Kaiser hit a 3-pointer and four free throws to keep Floyd within 28-21 at halftime.
McBryde fueled the final BNL breakout. The 6-foot-2 sophomore stole an inbound pass under the basket and scored, popped a jumper in the lane and added four free throws as the Stars surged to a 40-24 lead in three minutes.
“Our turnovers really hurt us,” Hamsley said. “That was the key to the game. We knew they were going to come out and get us. We just didn’t handle it well. That pushed them out there, and they kept it the rest of the game.”
Kaiser finished with 14 points, but only two in the second half. Hinton totaled 11 and added eight rebounds.
Rizzi, who hit 14 3-pointers in the Stars’ first two sectional victories, was limited to one of them. Jenna Allen, usually a dominating post presence, was held to five points. But McBryde, Alexa Bailey (eight points) and BNL’s overlooked bench (nine points) took up the slack.
“That’s a very good team,” Hamsley said. “You have to pick your poison. They’re second in the state. They deserve it.”
Now BNL will chase its 10th regional title. And the next hurdle will be the highest.
“This is a really good sectional,” Godlevske said. “To win it once is a special thing, so to have an opportunity to do some more special things is exciting.”