Marlena Groves played just seven seconds Wednesday night, but they were the biggest seconds of her career. And Manual’s season.
Her layup in the closing seconds of the game lifted the Crimsons, the No. 7 team in The Courier-Journal’s Litkenhous Ratings, to a 65-64 victory over archrival Male in the Seventh Region girls basketball semifinals at Valley.
In a game that featured 15 lead changes, nine ties, six players fouling out and four extra minutes, it was an unassuming senior who ended up standing out. She came into the game after Aniah Griffin fouled out with 7.5 seconds left and the game tied at 63-63.
Male’s Ciaja Harbison made the first free throw, but missed the second. Manual’s Tonysha Curry gathered the loose ball, one of 16 rebounds the senior guard pulled down, dribbled the ball up the court and passed to Jeanay Riley. The freshman then found Groves alone on the left block.
“I didn’t have time to think about it,” said Groves. “As soon as I got it, I was like, ‘I gotta let it go before I get blocked.’”
No. 3 Male could not get a shot off before time expired, and Groves’ teammates began to celebrate around her.
“Never have I ever had anything like this happen to me,” said Groves, who was still visibly shaking even after she and her teammates left the locker room after the game.
Manual jumped out early, using a 16-3 run after giving up the game’s first basket to take an 11-point lead with 3:43 left in the first quarter. However, then Manual struggled to find its shot and scored just two points in the next 8:06. That coincided with a 14-2 Male run, with Cameron Browning’s putback making it 19-18 with 3:37 left in the half.
Male grew the lead to 33-25 with 5:06 left in the third quarter, but foul trouble soon became an issue for the Bulldogs, who were already without starting guard Emilia Sexton after she suffered a season-ending knee injury last month. Frontcourt players Kyra Hogan, Cameron Browning and Logan Calvert all eventually fouled out, and their foul trouble allowed Manual to dominate the boards late.
Male held a 31-18 rebounding edge after three quarters, but in the final 12 minutes, Manual enjoyed a 21-11 edge on the glass.
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The fourth quarter alone featured seven lead changes and five ties. The last came just before the buzzer as Harbison hit a baseline layup. She missed three free throws in in the final 5.7 seconds, but after her final miss, the ball went out of bounds off a Manual player.
On the ensuing inbounds play, the Bulldogs Joelle Johnson had trouble finding an open player. She appeared to try to throw it off a Crimsons defender to avoid the five-second call, but the ball went right to Harbison, whose basket tied the game at 54. The junior guard finished with 21 points.
Manual, too, had foul trouble as it had three players foul out. In all, officials called 29 fouls, but neither team took much advantage off them. Male made 16 of 30 free throws, while Manual made only 13 of 30.
“Both teams had a lot of foul trouble, but I felt the key was our bigs kinda fouled out before their bigs,” Male coach Champ Ligon said. “We were maintaining a small lead and then in the process of Cam and Logan fouling out, they got the lead. To the credit of our other young ladies, they stepped up and made some big plays just to get it to overtime.”
The Crimsons the defending regional champs, now will play No. 6 Sacred Heart Saturday evening for a right to go back to the Sweet 16. They were led by Jaela Johnson’s 23 points.
While many expected Male to advance from the region or even considered the Valkyries a possibility, Manual coach Jeff Sparks loved that his team has stayed under the radar.
“We’re not predicted to win this thing, and that’s OK by me,” he said. “It doesn’t matter who’s predicted, we got to go play the game. We feel like we’re a good basketball team. We feel like we had a shot.”
And thanks to Groves, they still do.
SACRED HEART 72, EASTERN 46: The sixth-ranked Valkyries came out red-hot and rolled to a 26-point win over the No. 15 Eagles.
Sacred Heart shot 63.6 percent in the first half – and hit five first-quarter 3-pointers – on its way to a 42-17 lead. The Valkyries cruised from there.
“We were open and then kept rotating the ball to the right shooters,” Sacred Heart coach Donna Moir said. “We get some nights like that. It’s good timing, hopefully we see that Saturday.”
Kiki Samsel hit four 3-pointers, three in the first quarter, on her way to a team-high 16 points. Ashlee Harris added 15 points, hitting four 3’s of her own, while Grace Berger finished with 13 points, 11 rebounds and five assists for the Valkyries (28-5), who shot 46.8 percent (22 for 47) for the game, including 47.1 percent (8 of 17) from 3-point range. Kia Sivils chipped in with 11 points for Sacred Heart, which has won 11 straight games.
Bri Mishler scored 13 points to pace Eastern (23-9), which shot 37.8 percent (14 for 37) for the game, including 25 percent (5 for 20) in the first half.
Saturday’s regional final will be the rubber match for the Valkyries and Crimsons, who split a pair of regular-season meetings.
Manual won the first, 67-53, in the semifinals of the Traditional Bank Holiday Classic at Lexington Catholic on Dec. 23. Sacred Heart took the second matchup, 67-62, Jan. 7 on the Crimsons’ homecourt.
SEVENTH REGION GIRLS TOURNAMENT
Semifinals at Valley
MANUAL 65, MALE 64
Ciaja Harbison 21p, Joelle Johnson 5p 6r, Destiny Combs 2p, Alana Striverson 2p, Kyra Hogan 16p 7r, Cameron Browning 11p 9r, Logan Calvert 7p.
Jaela Johnson 23p, Marlena Groves 2p, Nyah Smith 4p, Tyonne Howard 5p 5a, Jeanay Riley 1p 1a, Aniah Griffin 8p, Tonysha Curry 8p 16r, Nila Blackford 14p 10r.
SACRED HEART 72, EASTERN 46
SACRED HEART (28-5)
Ashlee Harris 15p; Kiki Samsel 16p; Kia Sivils 11p; Kristen Clemons 2p, 5r; Grace Berger 13p, 11r, 5a; Erin Toller 6p; Cierra Scott 4p; Destinee Marshall 2p; Natalie Fichter 2p, 4r; Caroline Flaherty 1p.
Bri Mishler 13p, 5r; Mikayla Kinnard 9p, 5r; Natalie Collins 6p, 3r, 3a; Kiara Pearl 9p; Devin Beach 4p; Breanna Anthony 2p; Tedi Nunn 2p; Jayden Townsend 1p.