With victories over Butler, Bullitt East, Sacred Heart and Manual, Ballard High School could well stake a claim as the top girls’ basketball team in the Louisville area so far this season.
Just don’t expect Bruins head coach Frank Wright to go that far.
“I think all the top teams are pretty even,” Wright said. “It’s kind of the dog days of winter right now, and everybody’s kind of in a lull. You’ll see some changes between now and the start of districts and regionals.”
The top girls’ teams in the area will get a big test this week in the Republic Bank/Coca-Cola Louisville Invitational Tournament. The event will tip off Tuesday with four first-round games at Bellarmine University’s Knights Hall.
Wednesday’s second round and Friday’s quarterfinals also will be played at Bellarmine, with Saturday’s semifinals and 8 p.m. championship game being held at Christian Academy. (The Bellarmine men’s and women’s teams both have games scheduled at Knights Hall on Saturday.)
The 16-team LIT field will include nine teams ranked among the Top 20 in The Courier-Journal’s Litkenhous Ratings — No. 2 Anderson County, No. 3 Butler, No. 4 Bullitt East, No. 7 Franklin County, No. 8 Ballard, No. 9 Sacred Heart, No. 16 Manual, No. 18 Eastern and No. 20 Mercy.
Wright said all of them have a chance to win the LIT crown.
“It’s all about matchups,” he said. “It’s all about if somebody’s hurt or not hurt, if somebody has the flu or doesn’t have the flu. There are a lot of very dangerous teams. … It’s going to be a good event. There’s a lot of parity.”
Ballard received a first-round bye and will face the Central-Eastern winner in a second-round game at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday.
The Bruins (16-2) had won 14 straight games before Friday’s 44-42 loss to Notre Dame in the Raatz Fence/O’Shea’s Classic at Mercy. Notre Dame also is in the LIT field.
“We didn’t play that well against Notre Dame, but we still had the lead late,” Wright said. “If we had made two or three better decisions we would have won that game, but we didn’t.”
Senior Javonna Layfield has recovered from knee injuries and leads Ballard in both scoring (16.9 ppg) and rebounding (9.9 rpg). Senior guard Aundrea Matchen averages 11.6 points and 4.6 rpg. Junior Alex Martin (7.7 ppg), eighth-grader Briana Mishler (6.5 ppg) and senior Brandy Ray (4.3 ppg) round out the starting lineup.
Senior starter Kiana Richardson has missed the past four games with a knee injury, and Wright isn’t sure when she’ll be back.
“We’ve had some younger kids step up a bit and answer the bell a few times,” Wright said. “I think we’re like everybody else in that we’re evolving right now.”
One constant for Ballard has been a defense that is allowing just 40.3 points per game.
“A lot of teams we’ve played have had their lowest offensive scores against our defense,” Wright said. “I think we defend decently. We mix it up quite a bit.”
Butler, Bullitt East and Sacred Heart join Ballard as Louisville-area teams that received first-round byes. The second-round survivors will join state teams Anderson County, Franklin County, LaRue County and Notre Dame in Friday’s quarterfinals.
Butler (14-2) owns victories over Bullitt East, Manual and Mercy but dropped close decisions to Eastern (69-63) and Ballard (50-47).
Bullitt East (15-4) enters on a two-game skid after falling to North Hardin (61-56) on Thursday and Sacred Heart (55-39) on Saturday.
Bullitt East coach Chris Stallings agrees that the LIT is wide open.
“I still think there are a lot of good teams in the city, and on a given night there’s not a lot of difference between any one of them,” he said. “There are a lot of different teams that could win.”
Sacred Heart (15-4) is 10-1 in its past 11 games, the only loss coming to Ballard (58-56) on Jan. 16. The Valkyries feature one of the top scoring tandems in the city with seniors DaiJia Ruffin (17.4 ppg) and Raven Merriweather (16.4 ppg).
Valkyries coach Donna Moir said she likes her team’s chances this week, noting its four losses have come by a combined 15 points.
“I’d say it’s pretty wide open,” she said. “I’ve seen Butler play really well. I’ve seen Ballard play well at times. I don’t think you can ever count out Manual. It will be a fun tournament because I think you’re going to see some surprises.”
Last year’s LIT was canceled after the second round because of snow. The entire 2009 event also was canceled because of snow.