Holy Cross senior Abby Hassert fights her way to the hoop. Holy Cross vs. Louisville Male. KHSAA Sweet 16 state semifinals. March 14, 2015. Western Kentucky University. E.A. Diddle Arena.
BOWLING GREEN, Ky. – The Holy Cross girls basketball team has been used to others doubting their potential this season.
One person who needed no convincing Saturday was Louisville Male head coach Champ Ligon, who left no doubt that he predicts the Indians will make history on Sunday.
“They’re a great team,” Ligon said. “I fully expect them to win this whole thing.”
Holy Cross is in position to make Northern Kentucky history after beating Male 47-37 in the semifinals of the KHSAA Sweet 16 Saturday night at Diddle Arena. HC (32-3) advanced to the state championship game, where it will face Allen County-Scottsville (30-4). Tipoff is 3 p.m. EDT.
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. “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.”
Senior guard Deja Turner led on offense with 20 points on 6-of-14 shooting and 7-of-10 from the foul line. Sophomore guard Aleah Tucker posted eight points and six rebounds. Senior forward Abby Hassert grabbed six rebounds.
Junior guard Dajah McClendon posted five points and five assists while playing her normal steady, skillful game at point guard. Her presence running the offense kept the Bulldogs out of transition, which was a big part of their game coming in.
“We wanted to double (McClendon) as much as we could in the press and take the ball out of her hands,” Ligon said. “We didn’t do a very good job of it. She handles the ball very well, she makes great decisions with the ball. If you’ve got a superior ball-handler and you don’t keep it away from her, you don’t do well.”
The Bulldogs had no second-chance points in the first half and only forced 11 turnovers on Holy Cross.
“I knew it would be a really tough matchup,” Ligon said. “It’s usually easier to slow a team down then to speed one up. We weren’t able to turn them over and they outrebounded us. If you can’t rebound, it’s harder to get out and run.”
The Indians were slow in the first half as they admittedly had a bit of a hangover over their win the previous night against top-ranked Elizabethtown, who had been the prohibitive favorite in the tourney. HC still led 19-18 at the break.
“He told us we had to get over that win yesterday,” Turner said. “We were kind of riding high on the win and we were kind of sluggish. But the second half, we realized Male was our focus. We have to beat them to even get to the championship game.”
HC came out fired up in the third quarter with a 12-2 run. After the teams traded baskets, the Indians scored 10 unanswered points to pull away.
In the run, Turner hit a jumper, then senior Abby Hassert hit a short jumper in the lane to make it 25-20, prompting a Bulldogs time out.
That didn’t help Male, as Turner and Mayhaus hit baskets, then after missing a layup, Mayhaus deftly put back her own miss to make it 31-20, an 11-point lead.
“That first half was very tough,” Murphy said. “We were outside of ourselves. We were not executing. Our defense was sluggish. We looked as though we were content beating E’town. The second half, we looked more like Holy Cross.”
Now the Indians will look ahead to making area history. HC beat ACS 61-54 on Dec. 22.
Murphy started the postgame press conference by mentioning Boone County head coach Nell Fookes, who retired after the Rebels’ loss in the Ninth Region quarterfinals.
“I’ve been getting calls, texts, Facebook messages, you name it, about representing the Ninth,” he said. “I think we’ve done a pretty good job at that. I have to make sure that we realize that one of our legends has retired, Nell Fookes. I’m a Boone County alum. She’s done a lot for that school, she’s done a lot for our region. She’s done a ton representing girls basketball in the state of Kentucky.”
Holy Cross (32-3): Turner 6 7 20, McClendon 2 1 5, Hassert 1 0 2, Tucker 0 8 8, A. Mayhaus 6 0 12. Totals 15 16 47.
Male (26-5): Calvert 0 1 1, Il. Green 2 5 9, Sexton 5 0 12, Jackson 2 0 4, Harbison 1 2 4, Browning 2 0 4, I. In. Green 1 1 3. Totals: 13 9 37.
Halftime, HC 19-18. 3-pointers: HC 1 (Turner), M 2 (Sexton 2).