The shine of the Louisville Invitational Tournament championship had turned to a bit of rust for the Butler High School girls’ basketball team, which was able to practice just once this week because of school cancellations.
But with Friday’s game against Eastern on the line, the Bearettes found the spark they needed from their top players.
Freshman Jaelynn Penn scored seven straight points during a key stretch and senior Danielle Lawrence made the clutch plays in the final minutes as host Butler defeated Eastern 56-53 in a top-20 matchup.
Eastern was able to practice just once this week as well, and both coaches said the lack of preparation time showed.
“The first thing you lose is conditioning,” Butler coach Larry Just said. “Now you can’t run up and down the way you’re used to, particularly for their style and our style. We like to get up and down. … It was still a good game.”
Lawrence, an IUPUI signee, scored 17 points and Penn finished with 11 as Butler (19-2) — No. 2 in The Courier-Journal’s Litkenhous Ratings — avenged a 69-63 overtime loss on Dec. 21 in the semifinals of the South Oldham Lady Dragons Invitational.
Just said cutting turnovers was the key against Eastern. The Bearettes committed 30 in the December loss and finished with 20 on Friday.
Lawrence said there was something more important than revenge on the line.
“We weren’t going to lose on our home court,” she said. “I know that.”
Madison Raque, a North Carolina Wilmington signee, scored 18 points and Jade Spaulding added 15 to lead No. 18 Eastern (12-6). The Eagles have lost four of their past five games by a total of 11 points.
“(Butler) finds ways to win those games,” Eastern coach Josh Leslie said. “I guess it’s ultimately my fault, but we find ways to lose those games. … We just can’t get over that hump against really good teams we’re going to have to beat to do anything in the tournament.”
Lawrence’s basket gave Butler a 31-20 lead with 3:20 left in the first half, but Eastern scored the final nine points to pull within 31-29 at the break.
Penn scored seven straight points for her team to give Butler a 49-42 lead with 5:15 remaining, but Eastern pulled even on a Raque 3-pointer that made it 49-49 with 2:44 left.
After the teams traded baskets, Miah Casey’s jumper gave Butler the lead for good 53-51 with 1:10 left. Eastern called a timeout on its next possession, but Lawrence stole a pass and then hit two free throws for a 55-51 edge with 37.7 seconds left.
“She backdoored, and I was like, ‘Oh, lord,’ ” Lawrence said of the key steal. “So I went back and just got the ball.”
After another Eastern turnover, Lawrence hit 1 of 2 free throws for a 56-51 lead with 10.9 seconds left. Eastern’s Natalie Collins scored with 3 seconds left to make it 56-53, but Butler ran out the final seconds.
Leslie said the play of Lawrence and Penn gave Butler the advantage down the stretch. Just agreed.
“Those kids just make basketball plays and instinct plays that we don’t teach,” Just said. “It’s just from playing the game. Those kids can get steals, get to the other end, get a deflection, get a steal and create a lot of things real quick. It’s a luxury to have them.”
– Porter 4, Spaulding 15, Thompson 2, Sivils 1, Raque 18, Collins 4, Hart 9.Eastern (12-6)
– Torrens 3, Bowden 5, Lawrence 17, Penn 11, Winebrenner 6, Casey 6, Lewis 1, Just 7.Butler (19-2)
– Spaulding, Raque 3; Torrens, Bowden, Penn, Winebrenner 2.3-point goals