BOWLING GREEN, Ky.
After shooting a mediocre 27.5 percent on 3-pointers entering the Sweet 16, the Butler High School girls’ basketball team has found its stroke at the most opportune time.
The Bearettes hit 6 of 7 3-point tries in the first quarter to take a 17-point lead and held on to beat Ashland Blazer 62-50 in Saturday’s semifinals of the Houchens Industries/KHSAA Sweet 16 at E.A. Diddle Arena.
Butler was 7 of 15 on 3-pointers in Wednesday’s 54-52 victory over Newport Central Catholic in the first round and finished 7 of 11 from behind the arc Saturday.
“We’ve made some shots here, which has relaxed us in some big games,” Bearettes coach Larry Just said. “We’ve worked on it throughout the year. … It’s like a lot of shooters and teams that when some shots go down early you get relaxed shooters and all of a sudden they start making shots.”
Danielle Lawrence had 15 points, six rebounds, five assists and two steals as Butler (32-3) — No. 2 in The Courier-Journal’s Litkenhous Ratings — ran its winning streak to 19.
Bre Torrens hit all five of her shots, including 3 of 3 from 3-point range, and scored 14 points as the Bearettes advanced to face Elizabethtown, a 71-56 winner over Clark County, in the state final at 3 p.m. EDT today.
Butler is 3-1 in state finals, winning its last crown in 2008.
“We’re awfully excited to have a chance to be playing on Sunday,” Just said. “We’ve talked about this from day one with our crew in terms of having a chance to win a state championship. That’s what you play for. That’s what you go through conditioning for.”
Haley Sue Foutch scored 16 points to lead Ashland Blazer (27-9). Junior forward Shelby Gransberry played all eight minutes of the first quarter but didn’t return because of a sprained ankle sustained in a quarterfinal victory over Danville on Friday.
Ashland Blazer coach Bill Bradley said Gransberry’s limited mobility forced his team to open the game in a 2-3 zone instead of its traditional man-to-man.
“We decided it was worth rolling the dice,” Bradley said. “We got a lot of scouting reports on who their 3-point shooters were and gave it a roll, and they knocked the lights out in the first five minutes. … We dug such a hole and obviously just couldn’t get over the hump.”
Torrens hit a pair of threes and Lawrence had another one as Butler jumped to an 11-2 lead. Allison Just, the coach’s daughter, hit back-to-back threes for a 19-6 lead, and Micaiah Bowden closed the quarter with a 3-pointer for a 26-9 lead. Overall, Butler was 10 of 14 from the field in the first quarter.
Torrens continued to shoot well in the tournament; she’s now 10 of 18 through three games and 6 of 8 on 3-pointers.
“I just wanted to make as many shots as I could to get my team on a run and get them excited so we could start off well,” she said.
Bradley scrapped his zone after Gransberry went out of the game and the Kittens slowly climbed back in it, closing the first half with a 19-7 run to pull within 38-30.
Foutch’s 3-pointer got Ashland Blazer within 54-47 with 1:36 left , and the Kittens had a chance to pull closer after a Butler turnover. But Torrens drew a charging foul from Alexis Robinson with 1:14 remaining, and the Bearettes put the game away at the free-throw line.
“Coach kept telling me to get under the basket, and at first I didn’t understand it,” Torrens said. “Then he told me out of a timeout to stand under the basket and take charges. I just moved and tried to get in front of her.”
Butler finished the game shooting 57.9 percent — even if it wasn’t the way Just had planned.
“The first half I kept trying to get them to get to the rim, and we couldn’t get to the rim,” he said. “But we were making shots. … When you make shots, everything looks better.”