The Panthers dominated the boards behind Reauna Cleaver and Erin Boley and Jada Stinson added 11 points in a 51-42 victory over Sacred Heart in Friday’s quarterfinals of the Republic Bank/Coca-Cola Louisville Invitational Tournament at Bellarmine University’s Knights Hall.
No. 1 in the state in The Courier-Journal’s Litkenhous Ratings and No. 13 in the nation in the USA Today Super 25, E’town improved to 22-2 and ran its winning streak to 11.
It was the closest margin of victory against a Kentucky opponent this season. In five previous games against in-state foes this month, the Panthers had won by an average margin of 55.8 points.
“I didn’t think we played real well tonight, and that’s a credit to Sacred Heart,” E’town coach Tim Mudd said. “But we need those sort of games. That makes us better and keeps us humble because sometimes you can start to think you’re a little better than you are.”
Cleaver, a senior who has signed with Louisiana Tech, posted 13 points and 14 rebounds as the Panthers won the rebounding battle 38-21. Boley, a junior who has committed to Notre Dame, had 13 points and nine rebounds but struggled from the field (5 of 17).
Kiki Samsel scored 14 points to lead Sacred Heart (15-6), which had its eight-game winning streak snapped. Grace Berger added nine points, six rebounds and four assists, and Ashley Johnson pitched in nine points.
Despite her team giving E’town one of its toughest games of the season, Valkyries coach Donna Moir wasn’t accepting a moral victory.
“A lot of people walking through the stands are going to say, ‘You all did a great job,’” Moir said. “We’re disappointed we lost. That’s just their mentality.”
The teams were tied at 32 after three quarters, and Moir implored her team as it took the floor for the fourth: “Nobody thinks we can do this. Get it done!”
But Cleaver did the damage, scoring six straight points during an 8-0 run that gave the Lady Panthers a 40-32 lead at the 4:40 mark.
“I was frustrated through the whole game, but I knew I had to stay in it and we had a game to finish,” Cleaver said.
Berger’s 3-pointer pulled the Valkyries within 40-37 with 3:58 left, but Stinson answered with a 3-pointer for a 43-37 lead. Sacred Heart pulled within four points on two occasions but never got closer.
Shooting 50 percent as a team this season, E’town hit just 38.8 percent (19 of 49) on Friday. But the difference was in rebounding, as the Panthers outscored the Valkyries 14-4 in second-chance points.
“They were all good shots, but they’re not going to fall in every night,” Mudd said. “I’m very proud of the win, and we live to fight another day.”
Elizabethtown (22-2) – Huff 3, Bowling 5, Stinson 11, Warden 6, Boley 13, Cleaver 13.
Sacred Heart (15-6) – Johnson 9, Samsel 14, Sivils 6, Berger 9, Taylor 4.
3-point goals – Huff, Stinson 2, Warden 2; Johnson, Samsel 2, Berger.