BOWLING GREEN, Ky.
A nine-minute scoring drought couldn’t keep the Marshall County High School girls’ basketball team from its first state tournament victory in 23 years.
Taylor Meadows scored 18 points and Mariah McKenty added 17 as the Lady Marshals beat Letcher County Central 56-52 on Thursday in the first round of the Houchens Industries Sweet 16 in E.A. Diddle Arena.
In its record 21st state tournament, Marshall County had gone one and done 10 straight times since reaching the quarterfinals in 1990.
“We’ve been underdogs all year,” coach Joseph Simmons said. “We had to beat the top two teams in the region (Paducah Tilghman and Murray) just to get here. These girls just never quit … and I couldn’t be more proud to be their coach.”
Marshall County (27-9) will face the Notre Dame-Madison Central winner in tonight’s 9 EDT quarterfinal.
Kelah Eldridge (17 points, nine rebounds) and Julie Cornett (16 points, 18 rebounds) had big games for Letcher County Central (29-6), which saw its 17-game winning streak end.
“We’re going 100 miles an hour from late November until about five minutes ago,” coach William Adams said. “It’s really hard on an old man to hit the brakes that hard. I feel like I got whiplash from doing it.”
McKenty’s jumper gave the Lady Marshals a 31-21 lead with 2:57 left in the second quarter, but they didn’t score again until the 1:59 mark of the third. Meanwhile, the Lady Cougars scored 17 points to take a 38-31 lead on Eldridge’s layup with 2:22 left in the third.
“We got stagnant and started taking some questionable shots, and we weren’t rebounding on the other end,” Simmons said. “They wanted it more.”
Alex Brown hit two free throws to end the drought, and the Lady Marshals took the lead for good at 48-46 on McKenty’s jumper with 3:52 left.
Down 54-52, Letcher County Central had a chance to tie with nine seconds left as Eldridge drove the left side of the lane, but her shot hit the side of the backboard.
“I think I fell away a little bit too much,” she said. “I should have taken one more dribble and made a better choice there.”
McKenty sank two free throws with seven seconds remaining to seal the victory.
Simmons credited defense for keeping Marshall County in the game.
“We didn’t score for nine minutes, and we were still in the ballgame,” he said. “Our girls could have easily gotten frustrated and given up easy buckets.”
Letcher County (29-6) – Cornett 16, Stidham 15, Eldridge 17, Breeding 2, Bentley 2.
Marshall County (27-9) – Greer 8, Meadows 18, McKenty 17, Fehrenbacher 3, Brown 2, Reed 2, Barnard 2.
3-point goals – Stidham 3, Eldridge, Greer, Meadows 2, McKenty.