BOWLING GREEN, Ky. – The talk of the tournament after averaging 82 points in first-round and quarterfinal victories, the Male High School girls basketball team met its match against one of the state’s stingiest defenses.
The Lady Bulldogs shot just 29.5 percent, got outrebounded 37-28 and struggled to score from the outset during a 47-37 loss to Covington Holy Cross in Saturday’s semifinals of the Houchens Industries/KHSAA Sweet 16 at E.A. Diddle Arena.
Holy Cross is allowing just 38 points per game this season and stifled a Male offense that was averaging 66.2.
“I knew it was going to be a really tough matchup for us because it’s usually easier to slow a team down than speed one up,” Male coach Champ Ligon Jr. said. “We weren’t able to turn them over, and they outrebounded us. If you don’t rebound, it’s hard to consistently run.”
Wright State signee Deja Turner scored 20 points and Bellarmine signee Ally Mayhaus added 12 points, 13 rebounds and four blocks to lead Holy Cross (32-3), which extended its winning streak to 22 and reached the state final for the first time.
The Indians – No. 4 in the state in The Courier-Journal’s Litkenhous Ratings – will face the Mason County-Allen County-Scottsville winner in Sunday’s 3 p.m. EDT final.
Ligon likes the Indians’ chances.
“They’re a great team,” he said. “I fully expect them to win this whole thing.”
Emilia Sexton scored 12 points and I’Liyah Green added nine points, four rebounds and three blocks to lead No. 14 Male (26-5), which reached the state semifinals for just the second time in school history (1994).
Male led by four points on two occasions midway through the second quarter, but Dajah McClendon’s basket just before the buzzer gave the Indians a 19-18 halftime lead.
Holy Cross coach Kes Murphy said his team was sluggish in the first half, perhaps suffering a letdown after Friday’s 41-40 upset of No. 1 Elizabethtown.
“We had to get over that win (Friday),” Turner said. “In the second half we realized that Male is our focus. We had to beat them to even get to the championship game. We had to buckle down, play defense and just do what we do.”
Turner and Mayhaus both scored four points during a 10-0 Holy Cross run, with Mayhaus’ putback capping the surge for a 31-20 lead at the 1:08 mark of the third quarter.
While Turner and Mayhaus did the scoring, Ligon said McClendon’s play at point guard was just as important. She finished with five assists and three turnovers while playing all 32 minutes.
“If you have a superior ballhandler and you don’t keep it away from her, it kind of negates the press,” Ligon said.
India Green’s steal and layup pulled Male within 31-25 with 6:51 remaining, but Holy Cross answered with a 6-1 run for a 37-26 lead at the 4:07 mark. The Lady Bulldogs never got closer than nine points the rest of the way.
Murphy – whose sister, Donna, was Kentucky’s first Miss Basketball winner while at Newport in 1976 – said he wasn’t concerned about Male’s offensive prowess because of his team’s 3-0 record this season against No. 3 Holmes.
“Holmes pressures the ball very well,” he said. “They have some serious athletes. They can flat-out play. No disrespect to (Male), but Holmes lost to us three times. So we were battle-tested.”
It was a disappointing finish to a breakthrough season for Male, which should be a contender for years to come. Of the 13 players who saw action Saturday, Taylor Jackson and Denise Buckel were the only seniors. There also were two sophomores, three freshmen and an eighth-grader.
“We’re just going to have to keep trying to work harder keep that edge,” Ligon said. “Nothing’s automatic, but let’s hope this is the beginning of something special.”
Jason Frakes can be reached at (502) 582-4046 and followed on Twitter @kyhighs.
COVINGTON HOLY CROSS 6 13 12 16 – 47
MALE 7 11 5 14 – 37
Covington Holy Cross (32-3) – Turner 20, McClendon 5, Hassert 2, Tucker 8, A. Mayhaus 12.
Male (26-5) – Calvert 1, Il. Green 9, Sexton 12, Jackson 4, Harbison 4, Browning 4, In. Green 3.
3-point goals – Turner; Sexton 2.