Emma Rodgers of Walton-Verona goes to the hoop. Walton-Verona vs. Anderson County, 8th Region girls basketball semifinals, Carroll County HS, March 7 , 2015.
CARROLLTON, Ky. – While the Cincinnati Bearcats are preparing to battle for an NCAA Tournament bid tomorrow, two other sets of Bearcats battened down the hatches and set forth to beat each other for a chance to continue their Eighth Region girls basketball supremacy.
After a back-and-forth overtime battle, it was the red and white Bearcats from Anderson County keeping their season alive in a 65-60 overtime thriller over the blue and white Bearcats from Walton-Verona. The two teams had combined to win the last five regional championships, with Anderson County taking the last two as well as in 2010. Walton-Verona had won the title in 2011 and 2012.
“We missed a couple of free throws late,” W-V head coach Mark Clinkenbeard said. “Any time you go to overtime you got to make free throws. It’s the last game of the season. It’s hard. We played as hard as we could. We’re always going to get the effort from them. It just wasn’t meant to be.”
The red and white Bearcats advanced to Sunday’s championship game against the winner of the second semifinal between Shelby County (26-5) and Simon Kenton (25-4).
The loss spoiled a spectacular effort from junior forward Hailey Ison, who led Walton-Verona with 30 points. One of the state’s top free-throw shooters, hitting 89 percent in 226 attempts, she made 16-of-18 attempts for the game, 12 of them in the first half. She averaged nearly 18 points per game for the season for Walton.
“Hailey is a warrior,” Clinkenbeard said. “She goes to battle. You come into the season, she’s your four, maybe five, and she ends up being your one. She does whatever you ask her to do and she does it well. She makes free throws, makes shots. She’s a player.”
One minute into overtime, with the Bearcats tied at 53, Ison fouled out. Anderson scored one free throw on the exchange and never trailed afterward.
“It was big because it looked to me like she got fouled,” Clinkenbeard said. “And it flips it over, instead of her getting two free throws, she fouls out. That was big. That’s not why we lost, don’t get me wrong, but that was a big, big play.”
Anderson continued on a 4-1 run to lead by four, then junior forward Morgan Simpson scored on a layup to pull Walton within two at 58-57. On the next possession, Anderson senior Marissa Walker hit a wide-open 3-pointer to put Walton down five.
The blue Bearcats scored a bucket to pull within three points, then got the ball back, but missed two free throws and never got another chance to tie.
Ison sent the game to overtime with 26 seconds left in regulation on a three-point play. With four seconds left in regulation, she drove to the hoop but could only get off a contested shot.
“We got the ball with four seconds to go in our best player’s hand, going to the rim and we don’t score,” Clinkenbeard said. “We had a chance. If you told me she would have the ball at the elbow with a chance to win, I would take it.”
Walton played without two of its top guards in Shelby Beckham and Olivia DeZarn, who had recent injuries. The blue Bearcats graduate one senior in third-leading scorer Allie Mills.
“We’ve fought injuries for two years now and you wonder if it will ever go away,” Clinkenbeard said. “I think our freshmen and sophomores really grew up. We return six juniors. It’s unfortunate that Allie won ‘t be there but we have a chance to be really good next year.”
Walton-Verona (16-14): Luebbe 1 2 4, Mills 2 1 6, Ison 7 16 30, Rodgers 2 0 5, Simpson 4 0 9, Anderson 2 2 6. Totals: 18 21 60.
Anderson County (19-12): Currens 6 5 18, Aldridge 1 4 6, Robinson 3 0 9, Stratton 1 0 3, Walker 3 2 11, Rodgers 4 0 9, Hartley 1 0 2, Sims 2 3 7. Totals 21 14 65.
Halftime, W-V 31-23. 3-pointers: W-V 3 (Mills, Rodgers, Simpson). AC 9 (Robinson 3, Walker 3, Stratton, Currens, Rodgers).