After blowing a 12-point lead early in the fourth quarter, the Butler High School girls’ basketball team showed the offensive explosiveness that has made it a top contender for a state championship.
The Bearettes ripped off seven points in a 57-second span to take a 56-49 lead with 4:37 left and never looked back in a 68-58 victory over visiting Bullitt East on Tuesday in a Sixth Region Tournament quarterfinal.
“It’s not coaching,” Butler coach Larry Just said of the decisive run. “It’s just kids that have all year long made plays and have the belief in themselves to go make plays.”
Jaelynn Penn scored four of her 11 points during the run and was among four freshmen who totaled 36 points for the Bearettes, joining Tasia Jeffries (14), Bre Torrens (six) and Jenna Lewis (five).
Senior Danielle Lawrence (14 points) and sophomore Allison Just (11 points) also had big nights as Bullitt East (26-3) – No. 3 in the state in The Courier-Journal’s Litkenhous Ratings – advanced to face Holy Cross (15-14) in Thursday’s 6:30 p.m. regional semifinal at Valley.
Butler eliminated No. 13 Bullitt East (22-9) – the only other Top 20 team in the regional – but Just said his team won’t take the rest of the tournament for granted.
“I’m very aware of how difficult it is to get through a three-game regional tournament,” he said. “We felt we would have to beat Bullitt East … but we also felt we’d have to beat two other teams that are very good.”
Freshman Lindsey Duvall scored 29 points to lead the Lady Chargers, who finished with 25 turnovers. It was the fifth straight year Bullitt East was eliminated from the regional tournament by Butler.
“I felt during the (Louisville Invitational Tournament) that (Butler) was playing the best of anybody in the state,” Bullitt East coach Chris Stallings said. “They have a lot of talent, and they’re hard to guard.”
Jeffries was especially hard to guard in the third quarter after the Bearettes shot just 33.3 percent in the first half and trailed 26-23 at halftime.
Jeffries hit a pair of 3-pointers – the second giving Butler a 38-33 lead at the 3:28 mark – and scored the final four points as the Bearettes took a 49-37 lead after three quarters.
Just said Jeffries has struggled with her shot at times this season but helped her teammates relax after struggling in the first half.
“I’ve been shooting extra shots to get myself back in rhythm,” Jeffries said. “I’m primarily a shooter, so I’ve been trying to get back in my groove and hit as many shots as I can.”
Bullitt East charged right back with a 12-0 run to open the fourth quarter, including 10 straight by Duvall. Her basket with 5:44 left tied the score at 49.
But the Bearettes responded quickly. Penn hit two free throws, Just sank a 3-pointer and Penn made a layup after a beautiful no-look pass from Lawrence to give Butler a 56-49 lead with 4:37 remaining.
“Everybody was playing real fast and frantic,” Jeffries said of the team’s struggles early in the fourth quarter. “We just needed to calm down and run our stuff the way we wanted to.”
Emily Fryman’s steal and layup made it 56-51 with 2:39 left, but the Lady Chargers never got closer. The Bearettes hit 12 of 14 free throws in the final 1:47 to seal the victory.
Stallings said Butler’s 16-4 run to close the third quarter was the key.
“That put us in a hole, but I was really proud of our kids for coming back,” he said. “They expended a lot of energy mentally and physically, and then (Butler) hit us with that 7-0 run. We weren’t unwilling to come back. I think we just ran out of time to come back.”