Butler High School’s girls basketball team used a dominating inside game to put away Sacred Heart 81-63 in the semifinals of the Republic Bank/Coca-Cola Louisville Invitational Tournament Saturday morning at Assumption.
Center Molly Lockhart scored 28 points on 12-of-14 shooting in just under 17 minutes to lead the Bearettes, the top-ranked team in The Courier-Journal’s Litkenhous Ratings. Senior center Janna Lewis came off the bench to score 17, as she was perfect from the field on seven shots.
A 6-foot-3 junior on a team with four Division I-bound seniors, Lockhart scored 19 of her points in the first half as the Bearettes jumped out to a 35-19 lead early in the second quarter.
“It gives us a lot of weapons, there’s no question about it,” Butler coach Larry Just said.
In winning their 22nd straight game, the Bearettes shot 61.5 percent, including making 13 of 19 baskets in the second half. However, it wasn’t until midway through the third period when Butler (22-1) eventually pulled away from the No. 5 Valkyries (17-5).
Sacred Heart, which never led in the contest, actually had a chance to tie or take the lead midway through the third quarter as Butler clung to a 49-47 lead. But the Valkyries missed a layup, and Butler responded by scoring six points in less than a minute and pulling away from there thanks to a 19-2 run.
The Valkyries shot 57.6 percent in the first half as they cut that 16-point deficit to just a 44-40 Butler advantage at halftime. Most of that run came as Lockhart grew tired and went to the bench and Lewis picked up a couple fouls in the second quarter.
“We started moving the ball on offense and we made some shots,” Sacred Heart coach Donna Moir said about the first-half run.
However, Sacred Heart made just 8 of 27 shots in the second and went more than eight minutes between quarters only scoring two points.
“We knew we had to get the defense going and make sure we got the stops and (allow) no second chance shots,” said Lockhart, whose team outrebounded Sacred Heart 35-18.
Sophomore Ashlee Harris led Sacred Heart with 15 points and six assists.
Butler also got 13 points from senior Tasia Jeffries, a Saint Louis commit, and 11 points, eight rebounds and five assists from senior Jaelynn Penn, an Indiana commit.
The Bearettes will play Male in tonight’s championship game, also at Assumption. Butler lost to No. 2 Male in its season opener on Nov. 29 and beat No. 3 Mercer County 80-55 on Jan. 7.
► Male 81, Mercer County 72: Cameron Browning scored 22 points to lead Male past Mercer Country in Saturday’s other semifinal.
With the victory, the Bulldogs (20-1), the No. 2 team in The Courier-Journal’s Litkenhous Ratings, set up a rematch of last year’s LIT championship with Butler.
In a game pitting the state’s two top offenses, Male stormed out to a 24-8 lead with 1:10 remaining in the first quarter, thanks an early hot hand by Emilia Sexton. The junior guard scored nine of her 14 points in the opening 3:46 to help lead the Bulldogs early.
However, the Titans (18-6) climbed back into the contest behind the play of Lyric Houston. The 5-8 senior scored 18 of her 26 points in the first half and had a key assist on a Faith Lake 3-pointer to cut Male’s lead to 30-27 with 4:59 remaining in the first half. From that point, though, Male finished the half making 10 of its last 16 shots to lead 51-38 at halftime.
“Fifty-one points in the first half is kind of a statement against a tremendous team,” Male coach Champ Ligon said. “Mercer County, they’re one of the favorites to win the Sweet 16 when it comes around.”
One of the factors that helped the Bulldogs pull away was its size in the front court. Browning, the team’s center, made 9-of-13 shots, and the Bulldogs also outrebounded the Titans 55-34. Forward Kyra Hogan added 12 points and 14 rebounds for Male, which also got nine boards from Logan Calvert.
Browning said her coaches told the team that Mercer County would put on runs throughout the game and that the Bulldogs would need to withstand them. Case in point, after the Titans used a 10-2 run to cut Male’s lead to 59-54 with 2:31 left in the third, Male shut down the Titans for the next six minutes.
During that span, Mercer County made just 1-of-8 shots and committed five turnovers as Male pushed the lead to 69-56 with 4:28 left in the game.
“We knew when they were missing, that’s when we were going to score,” Browning said.
The Titans entered the LIT as one of the top 3-point shooting teams in the state, having made 186 in their first 21 games. However, the state’s fourth-best 3-point shooting team, in terms of percentage, could not find its stroke even as Male employed a 2-3 zone.
The Titans, who made 10-of-25 against Bullitt East in Friday’s quarterfinal victory, made just 7-of-32 Saturday. Coach Chris Souder said it wasn’t fatigue that plagued his team, but poor shot selection.
“We just settled for too many early threes,” Souder said.
University of Louisville commit Seygan Robins added 20 for Mercer County, and Male’s Ciaja Harbison pitched in 17.