Sacred Heart basketball team returning to Sweet 16 with 46-39 win over Ballard

Sacred Heart basketball team returning to Sweet 16 with 46-39 win over Ballard


Sacred Heart basketball team returning to Sweet 16 with 46-39 win over Ballard


After 10 years, Sacred Heart is back on top of the Seventh Region.

On the strength of a terrific performance by Miss Basketball candidate DaiJia Ruffin and impressive defense in the fourth quarter, the Valkyries defeated Ballard 46-39 in the regional tournament at Valley High, advancing to their first KHSAA Girls’ Sweet 16 since winning consecutive state titles from 2002 to ’04.

“I’ve had some great teams since then, and it seems like somebody always got hurt, or something happened,” 23rd-year Sacred Heart coach Donna Moir said. “… So I’m going to live this up for a while.”

Ruffin overcame two early fouls to finish with 24 points, including 16 during the middle quarters, and eight rebounds for Sacred Heart (27-7), No. 8 in The Courier-Journal’s Litkenhous Ratings. She, Raven Merriweather (12 points) and reserve guard Ashley Johnson (five points) made the all-tournament team.

“We can put our team on DaiJia’s back a little bit, her and Raven,” Moir said. “My leaders were good, and when the … scoreboard goes on, DaiJia Ruffin just goes off. She had a great game.”

The Valkyries earned their sixth overall trip to the state tournament and will play the winner of the Fifth Region in the first round on Thursday at E.A. Diddle Arena in Bowling Green.

Ruffin finished 8 of 11 from the field and 8 of 13 from the foul line and scored all but six of Sacred Heart’s points in the second and third quarters.

“It meant the absolute world to me (to win the tournament),” Ruffin said. “I’ve been playing high school basketball for six years, and I’ve never made it to State. It’s my senior year, and I got to State. I can’t describe this feeling, and I couldn’t be more happy.”

No. 9 Ballard (24-5) got 19 points, 13 rebounds and three blocked shots from its Miss Basketball finalist, Javonna Layfield, but was undone by a nearly seven-minute scoring drought in the final period. Ballard had used an 8-0 run spanning the third and fourth quarters to take a 34-31 lead on Layfield’s basket with 7:35 left, but then allowed 10 straight points before their next bucket, by Briana Mishler with just 50 seconds to go.

Moir said the Valkyries, who usually play man-to-man defense, switched to a 2-3 zone in the fourth quarter and believed it threw the Bruins off their game.

“I think we put in our heads, ‘Let’s get it done and quit playing around. Let’s get this,’ ” Merriweather said of the fourth quarter. “That motivated us to stop them more.”

Sacred Heart shot 48.5 percent from the floor and held Ballard to 34.1 percent. The Valkyries were also 13 of 21 from the foul line with Ruffin taking and making more free throws than Ballard’s whole team (7 of 10).

The loss finished a strong season for Ballard (24-5), which was seeking its first regional title.

The Bruins played without a key contributor, Andrea Patterson, who sat out with concussion symptoms after hitting her head on the floor in the semifinals.

As Ruffin, Merriweather and some of the Valkyries celebrated with tears of joy, Layfield and some of the Bruins were overcome with the emotion of a season-ending loss.

“We didn’t make as much noise as we wanted to, but we made history,” Layfield said. “… We’ve been fighting through adversity all year and just fell short.”

Ballard coach Frank Wright called it a “flat-out great game” between teams that had distinguished themselves as the best in the region all season. The Bruins had previously beaten Sacred Heart 58-56 in January.

“We wanted to play them, and they wanted to play us, and we’ve had two great games,” he said. “… I’m thinking Alydar and Affirmed and Ali and Frazier. That’s old timer’s thinking, but I’m thinking, yeah, this year, that’s Ballard and Sacred Heart.”

Moir said this trip to Diddle Arena, the Sweet 16 site, will be a special one because her daughter Meredith is on the team.

“That’s always been a dream of mine,” she said. “I got to play in the state tournament, and now one of my girls does.”


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