Holy Cross’ Ally Mayhaus tries to disrupt the shot of Morgan Rich. Holy Cross defeated Allen County-Scottsville 35-32 to win the KHSAA Sweet 16 state championship game.
BOWLING GREEN, KY. – Going into the season, much less the KHSAA Sweet 16 tournament, the Holy Cross girls basketball team were thought by many to be an unlikely group to make Northern Kentucky history and win a state championship.
It was fitting then, that an unlikely hero stepped up and sent the Indians into the record books Sunday afternoon at Diddle Arena.
Senior forward Abby Hassert, who had not scored all game, drove the lane from the top of the key. She scored a layup and was fouled with 5.5 seconds to play in the state championship game. That broke a 32-all tie against Allen County-Scottsville.
Hassert made the free-throw, a desperation 3-pointer by Morgan Rich missed at the buzzer, and Holy Cross won 35-32. The Indians (33-3), in their first appearance in the state tourney in 39 years, won the first championship by any Northern Kentucky school. AC-S, who was playing about 25 miles from its campus, finished 30-5.
“I got the ball on the top and I knew I had to look for Ally (Mayhaus) but I didn’t see her right away,” Hassert said. “I saw the lane open and I knew time was running out and we had to score…It means a lot because I’m a senior. It was a team effort the whole game. It didn’t come down to just one play. I’m really proud of the way we played the entire game. I just knew I hadn’t scored all night and it was my turn. I had to step up, and I did.”
Hassert came in averaging five points a game, shooting 56 percent from the floor while taking only 3.5 shots per game. HC head coach Kes Murphy said she had scored on the same play in a key late situation against Holmes in the Ninth Region final.
“Abby works her (tail) off in the post. Seals people off, and we weren’t getting her the ball consistently,” Murphy said. “Even when they passed the ball to her up high, for her to make that shot, it makes me look like a genius. It’s a tremendous play for her to have the IQ to see what is taking place, and drive the basket and make the play.”
Senior guard Deja Turner, headed to play for Wright State, scored 13 points on 6-of-11 shooting and was named the tournament most valuable player.
“It’s awesome for her because she does the little things,” Turner said. “She doesn’t get the big scoring every game. She does the little things, rebounds, she dives on the floor and she picks us up. And for her to get that last basket is awesome.”
Senior center Ally Mayhaus, headed to play for Bellarmine, scored 10 points and had two blocked shots. Junior guard Dajah McClendon had five points, four assists and two steals, the last setting up the Indians for their final possession.
With about 30 seconds to go and the teams tied at 32, McClendon poked the ball away from AC-S standout Morgan Rich. It rolled to sophomore Aleah Tucker. HC called time out with 20 seconds left to set up the final shot.
“She just kept putting it in my face, one after another,” McClendon said. “I had to go for it so we could get it back and try to score one more time.”
Tucker posted four points and four rebounds, and Hassert had a blocked shot to go with her final three points. Holy Cross shot 15-of-31 (48 percent) but was outrebounded 23-14. HC only committed seven turnovers.
Rich, a senior forward and University of Kentucky signee, had a standout game, scoring 20 points on 7-of-14 shooting, including 3-of-5 from 3-point range. She scored all 14 Patriot points in the second half. The rest of the lineup shot 4-of-16 for the game, with the other four starters notching one field goal apiece.
Rich injured her left ankle after being fouled with 3:16 left in the third quarter and the Indians leading 26-20. After taking several seconds to get up from the floor, she stayed in the game to make one free throw. With HC taking a five-point lead early in the fourth quarter on a jumper by Turner, Rich hit two more 3-pointers, the latter giving the Patriots the lead at 30-29 with 3:14 to play.
Mayhaus gave the Indians the lead right back on a layup, but Rich responded with two free throws to put AC-S back on top, 32-31 with 2:29 to play.
With 1:09 to go, Mayhaus was fouled and made one of two foul shots to tie the game at 32. AC-S set up for the final shot before McClendon’s key steal.
After a time out from each team, AC-S got the ball to Rich in the frontcourt, but the Indians limited her to a lunging try from 35 feet.
“(McClendon) and I, we had the double-team on Rich,” Turner said. “I told her take high-side and I would take backside, and everybody else we trusted to cover. We knew they were going to try to get a run-out but we trusted our foot speed and we trusted our help-side defense.”
The Indians continued their stifling overall defense, allowing 35 points per game in nine postseason contests. AC-S became the sixth opponent out of eight unique foes (HC beat Holmes twice) to have its lowest output of the season against Holy Cross.
“All the details, little things we practice every day,” Murphy said. “Defense, we work on that every day to be perfect. We don’t focus on averages, we just focus on us.”
Ultimately, it came down to the fifth starter making the play, and that signified the Indians’ underdog status.
“Who would have thought?” Hassert said. “We’re a team. We stuck together. This was our goal from the beginning of the season and we achieved it. It was a solid team effort the whole four days.”
Allen County-Scottsville (30-5): Sutton 1 0 2, Robinson 1 0 2, Brooks 1 0 3, Rich 7 3 20, Gregory 1 3 5. Totals: 11 6 32.
Holy Cross (33-3): Hassert 1 1 3, Tucker 2 0 4, A. Mayhaus 4 2 10, Turner 6 0 13, McClendon 2 0 5. Totals: 15 3 35.
Halftime, Tied 18-18. 3-pointers: AC-S 4 (Rich 3, Brooks). HC 2 (Turner, McClendon).
No local team has ever won a state title. Holy Cross is only the third area team in the modern history of the tournament (1975) to reach the final, following Jaime Walz’s Highlands team in 1994 and Notre Dame in 2013. Holy Cross previously made the Sweet 16 once, in 1976, winning one game.
“It means a lot,” said Holy Cross head coach Kes Murphy after the team’s semifinal win on Saturday. “One of the things I’ve been focusing on is that it seems as though we weren’t supposed to be here. People have asked me how I got this team to play as well as they are. It’s because we believe. It’s what we worked for. We want our kids to dream big and they do.”
The Indians used their familiar formula for success, shutting down another potent offense in the postseason. Coming into the game, Male had been held under 60 points five times against Kentucky foes, all since Jan. 30. Except for one 28-point outlier against Henderson County, Male had scored 50 or more points in every game this season. In the Sweet 16, Male had scored 78 and 86 points in its first two wins.
Not on this night. The Indians limited the Bulldogs to 30 percent shooting from the floor (13-44) and outrebounded the Bulldogs 37-28. Holy Cross rebounded nearly 70 percent of Male’s misses (22-of-32) and grabbed nearly half of its own misses (15-of-33). HC senior center Ally Mayhaus led the way inside with 12 points and 13 rebounds, and also blocked four shots. She was 6-of-12 from the floor.
“It’s not just me, it’s the whole team,” Mayhaus said. “I help on the backside but it starts up top with our guards. They just have to contain, which they did the whole game. It’s a team effort. We worked really hard as a team and in the summer and got where we wanted to be.”