BOWLING GREEN, Ky.
Playing the entire second half with four fouls, Haley Sue Foutch finished with 19 points, 13 rebounds and three of her team’s 11 blocked shots to lead Ashland Blazer over Danville 64-55 on Friday in the quarterfinals of the Houchens Industries/KHSAA Girls’ Sweet 16.
The Kittens (26-8) will face Butler in Saturday’s 7:30 p.m. EDT semifinal in E.A. Diddle Arena — Ashland’s first appearance in the final four during the modern era of the tournament.
Coach Bill Bradley called it a “great, gutsy win” and credited his players for “keeping our cool” during some first-half setbacks. Houtch picked up her fourth foul at the 2:39 mark of the second quarter, and Shelby Gransberry already had left the game with an ankle injury in the first quarter. (She returned later and finished with seven points, six rebounds and five blocks.)
Foutch doubted that she’d ever picked up four fouls in a game so quickly, but Bradley, who uses only six players, didn’t keep her out long. He put her back in just 1:18 into the third quarter with the score tied at 28.
“I just kept telling myself I couldn’t get my last one, and I just kept saying that, and that’s what kept me from trying to block shots,” she said.
Foutch played relatively passively in Ashland’s zone defense in the second half, but she was still highly effective. She had 12 points and eight rebounds in that half, when Ashland made 10 of 15 shots and 19 of 24 free throws. The Kittens shot 52.8 percent from the field overall and held Danville to 28.8 percent.
“IQ-wise she’s off the charts, basketball-wise and otherwise, too,” Bradley said of Foutch. “She knows she has to be in the game. … That was just her being smart, keeping her cool and not attempting to block shots and taking care of herself.”
Eighth-grader Mykassa Robinson also overcame early foul trouble to have a big game on a big stage with 18 points, including 8-of-8 free-throw shooting.
Senior Essence Grey had 25 points to lead Danville (25-8), which had never even won a regional tournament game before this year and was the smallest school among the quarterfinalists. After the defeat, coach Judie Mason was proud of her players.
“They changed the program at Danville High School,” she said. “I couldn’t care less what the stats say about the end of that game and the score. All I know is I will not trade my team for any team in the state of Kentucky.”
The Lady Admirals hung with Ashland throughout. Alyvia Walker’s basket with 1:55 left in the third quarter gave Danville a 34-33 lead.
But Robinson answered with a 3-pointer to start a 14-3 run spanning the final periods, and Ashland held on.
The Kittens’ five state titles are tied for most in the state, but they all came in the 1920s. Ashland has made the Sweet 16 12 times, including 2012 and ’13, since the tournament was restarted in 1975 after a 43-year hiatus, but it had never made the final four until this week.
Butler is the state’s No. 2 team in The Courier-Journal’s Litkenhous Ratings, but Foutch is confident.
“I’m so excited to play,” she said. “I don’t think we’re underdogs at all. I think if we play our best that we are right up there with them. If we play our defense and box out and hustle, then I don’t consider us an underdog at all.”