HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. – Behind a relentless defense, the Butler High School girls basketball put itself in position to win a state championship for the second time in three years.
The Bearettes used their full-court press to force 27 turnovers – and scored 33 points off of them – to defeat Murray 68-58 on Saturday in the semifinals of the St. Elizabeth Healthcare/KHSAA Sweet 16 in front of 3,759 fans at BB&T Arena.
No. 2 in the state in The Courier-Journal’s Litkenhous Ratings, Butler (30-5) will carry a 13-game winning streak into Sunday’s 2 p.m. state final against No. 5 Franklin County (31-4).
This Butler squad features several juniors who were freshmen on the 2013-14 team that beat Elizabethtown in Bowling Green, Ky., to capture the program’s fourth state championship.
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“With this being at a new place we could potentially be the first team to win here,” junior guard Bre Torrens said of Northern Kentucky University’s BB&T Arena, in its first year of hosting the event. “So that’s exciting.”
Janna Lewis, the hero of Friday’s 61-59 quarterfinal victory over No. 1 Elizabethtown, continued her strong tournament with 16 points to lead Butler. Allison Just and Jaelynn Penn both scored 12 points, and Micaiah Bowden added 11. Penn grabbed a game-high nine rebounds.
Macey Turley scored 17 points to lead No. 7 Murray (35-2), which entered the game with a state-best 29-game winning streak. But the 27 turnovers were too many to overcome.
“They’re very physical, very long, very athletic,” coach Rechelle Turner said of Butler. “I felt like we didn’t handle their press very well at all in the beginning of the game. We don’t see that type of pressure a whole lot, and we can’t simulate it in practice.”
Lewis’ layup gave Butler its biggest lead, 41-24, with 5:03 left in the third quarter before Murray turned up its defense and rallied.
Turley’s basket capped a 16-2 run that pulled the Tigers within 43-40 with 1:51 left in the third quarter. The Bearettes committed seven of their 23 turnovers during the surge.
“We were just getting tired, and credit to (Murray),” Butler coach Larry Just said. “They kept coming after us and making a run.”
The fiery Turner called the run “as excited as I’ve been in 20 years. … Just for the simple fact we felt like at that point we let them know that we were here. We fought our way back. I felt like if we could just ever get the lead that things were going to change for us. We never could, but it wasn’t for a lack of effort.”
The Tigers got as close as two points on two occasions in the fourth quarter, the latter coming on Lily Ramey’s two free throws that made it 56-54 with 1:46 remaining.
But the Bearettes were perfect from the free-throw line down the stretch, hitting 12 of 12 in the final 2:03 to seal the victory.
Now it’s on to Sunday’s final, in which Butler will chase its fifth state title. A win would match Laurel County and Ashland Blazer for the most in state history.
“I haven’t thought that far ahead after these last three days and the quick turnaround we have to go through tomorrow,” Larry Just said. “Right now I have a tired basketball team that just needs to figure out how to get some energy for tomorrow.”
Jason Frakes can be reached at (502) 582-4046 and email@example.com.
BUTLER 14 16 15 23 – 68
MURRAY 12 8 20 18 – 58
Butler (30-5) – Bowden 11, Just 12, Torrens 8, Jeffries 5, Penn 12, Goodlett 4, Lewis 16.
Murray (35-2) – Burpo 10, Waldrop 12, Mayes 15, Ma. Turley 17, Ramey 4.
3-point goals – Just, Jeffries, Penn; Mayes, Ma. Turley.