Janna Lewis had to wait a little longer than her teammates to make her season debut Tuesday, but she made the most of the opportunity when she finally got it.
The Butler High School junior posted 14 points and 10 rebounds – all in the second half – and sparked the host Bearettes to a 73-65 victory over Male in a battle of top-five teams in The Courier-Journal’s preseason poll of coaches.
“It was hard, but I had to go through it,” said Lewis, who didn’t play in the first half because of a “coach’s decision” by head coach Larry Just. “I had to go out and help my team and play hard and play good defense, and I did.”
Junior guard Jaelynn Penn, who has committed to Dayton, hit 4 of 8 3-point tries and posted 24 points and six steals to lead No. 3 Butler (1-0). Tasia Jeffries pitched in nine points, seven rebounds, three assists and two steals.
No. 2 Male (0-1), the defending Seventh Region champion, got 15 points from Ciaja Harbison and 14 from Emilia Sexton. Both had four steals.
The Bulldogs were without head coach Champ Ligon Jr. and freshman forward Cameron Browning after both were ejected from a preseason game against Owensboro Catholic on Nov. 21 at the Bullitt East Hooparama. The Kentucky High School Athletic Association requires a three-game suspension for a coach and a two-game suspension for a player following an ejection.
Male may have suffered another loss late in the fourth quarter when sophomore forward India Green, who scored 10 points, went out with a knee injury. She’s scheduled to visit a doctor Wednesday morning for further evaluation, her father, Ibn Green, said.
“That could be a big loss for us, but we’re going to stay positive and hope she ends up OK out of this,” said Male assistant coach Eric Browning, who is Cameron’s father. “She’s a big part of what we’re trying to do.”
Trailing 33-28 at halftime, Butler started the third quarter with a 16-0 run to take control. Penn scored nine points during the surge, and Lewis added a 3-point play. Terri Goodlett’s two free throws gave Butler a 44-33 with 4:29 left in the quarter.
Eric Browning said Lewis’ energy was the key to Butler’s third-quarter run.
“We knew she was going to come out and play the second half, and that kid plays so hard,” he said. “And we didn’t have one of our physical players (Cameron Browning) who could get in there and bang with her, and I think that hurt us a little bit.”
Male’s first points of the third quarter came on Sexton’s jumper in the lane with 3:06 left, and the Bulldogs chipped away from there.
Harbison’s basket pulled Male within 61-60 with 2:55 left in the fourth quarter, but she missed a free throw that could have tied the score.
Jeffries’ layup gave Butler a 63-60 lead with 2:14 left, and Penn hit a pair of free throws for a 65-60 advantage with 1:43 remaining. The Bearettes hit 8 of 10 free throws the rest of the way to seal the victory.
Butler finished 27 of 36 from the free-throw line (75 percent) and – led by Lewis – won the rebounding battle 47-25.
“When you look at our group, she’s an energy kid and we feed off her energy,” Just said of Lewis. “When she comes out and is battling and plays hard, it’s easy for the rest of the kids to say, ‘Hey, let’s do it.’”
Jason Frakes can be reached at (502) 582-4046 and email@example.com.
MALE 18 15 10 22 – 65
BUTLER 19 9 23 22 – 73
Male (0-1) – Harbison 15, Kraft 2, Sexton 14, Owens 5, Hogan 7, Il. Green 5, In. Green 10, Calvert 7.
Butler (1-0) – Torrens 4, Jeffries 9, Bowden 6, Penn 24, Goodlett 8, Lockhart 4, Lewis 14, Just 4.
3-point goals – Harbison, Owens, Calvert; Jeffries, Penn 4, Goodlett 2, Lewis.