With four weeks remaining in the regular season, the favorite for the girls basketball state championship likely will be decided in Louisville this week.
The state’s top six teams in The Courier-Journal’s Litkenhous Ratings are entered in the Republic Bank/Coca-Cola Consolidated Louisville Invitational Tournament, and it would be a big surprise if one of them doesn’t capture the title.
Four of the top six hail from Louisville – No. 1 Butler, No. 2 Male, No. 4 Manual and No. 6 Sacred Heart – and No. 3 Mercer County and No. 5 Simon Kenton represent the best from the rest of the state.
“(Mercer County and Simon Kenton) are both very good teams,” Butler coach Larry Just said. “But when you look at the strength of what we have now in the city of Louisville, somebody is typically going to step up and make some noise. You take us, you take Male, you take Manual and you take Sacred Heart, right now that’s four pretty good teams that are going to be pushing at the end.”
The LIT will tip off at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday when North Bullitt faces Christian Academy at Bellarmine University’s Knights Hall. Wednesday’s second-round games and Friday’s quarterfinals also will be played at Bellarmine, with Saturday’s semifinals (10 and 11:30 a.m.) and final (8 p.m.) being held at Assumption High School.
Bracket set for girls LIT. Fern Creek just edged out PRP for final spot. pic.twitter.com/qGWSoaB3tB— Jason Frakes (@kyhighs) January 5, 2017
No. 9 Mercy, No. 13 Bullitt East, No. 15 Henderson County and No. 18 Eastern also are capable of making tournament runs, but the top six have separated themselves this season.
Butler, Male, Mercer County, Manual, Simon Kenton and Sacred Heart are a combined 78-10 against Kentucky competition this season, with nine of those losses coming against each other. Ryle is the only Kentucky squad outside of the Super Six to beat one of them, knocking off Sacred Heart 70-65 on Dec. 23 in the third-place game of the Traditional Bank Holiday Classic at Lexington Catholic.
Here’s a closer look at each of the state’s top six teams:
No. 1 Butler (19-1): The defending state champion has won 17 straight games since a 68-62 loss to Male in the season opener and owns victories over Manual (two), Simon Kenton and Mercer County.
Indiana University signee Jaelynn Penn (15.5 ppg, 7.2 rpg) leads a talented starting five that also includes Tasia Jeffries (11.4 ppg, Saint Louis signee), Molly Lockhart (10.9 ppg, 6.1 rpg), Bre Torrens (9.2 ppg, Bellarmine signee) and Teri Goodlett (8.7 ppg, Eastern Kentucky signee).
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Senior post player Janna Lewis, a Tennessee State signee, made her season debut Saturday and could provide depth the rest of the season, Just said.
No. 2 Male (17-1): The Bulldogs are ranked No. 23 in the nation by USA Today, and their only loss came to No. 1 Fairfax (Virginia) Paul VI, 73-65, on Dec. 30 in the championship game of the Destin (Florida) Holiday Classic.
Junior guards Emilia Sexton (14.3 ppg, Butler commit) and Ciaja Harbison (13.3 ppg, Saint Louis commit) and 6-foot-1 sophomore Cameron Browning (12.9 ppg, 8.8 rpg) lead a Male squad that may be the deepest in the state.
No. 3 Mercer County (15-5): The Titans, who average 23 3-point attempts per game, have defeated Manual and lost to Butler by identical scores of 80-55.
“Mercer County throws in a clunker every once in a while, but they’re really, really good,” Male coach Champ Ligon Jr. said. “When they’re on with their 3s, they’re going to be tough to beat no matter who they’re playing.”
Junior guard Seygan Robins (15.5 ppg), a University of Louisville commit, leads the Titans. Junior Lexy Lake (11.6 ppg, 60 3-pointers made) and senior Lyric Houston (11.1 ppg, 5.8 rpg) are other top scorers.
No. 4 Manual (15-5): The Crimsons dropped consecutive games to Butler (72-71 in triple overtime) and Mercer County (80-55) over the weekend but own wins over four top-20 teams (Sacred Heart, Eastern, Mercy and No. 12 Holmes).
Junior Jaela Johnson (19.4 ppg) and senior Tonysha Curry (11.0 ppg, 9.8 rpg) comprise a high-scoring backcourt, and sophomore Nila Blackford (11.7 ppg, 7.4 rpg) is one of the city’s most improved players.
No. 5 Simon Kenton (16-3): The Pioneers are the only members of the group who haven’t defeated one of the other members, but they do own victories over No. 10 Franklin County, No. 11 Murray and No. 16 Scott County.
Guard Ally Niece leads the team in scoring (17.8 ppg) and is ranked among the top juniors in the state. Junior Shelby Harmeyer (11.2 ppg) is shooting 40.2 percent (37 of 92) from 3-point range.
No. 6 Sacred Heart (15-4): The Valkyries enter with a seven-game winning streak and have split two meetings with Manual and also defeated Simon Kenton.
Junior Grace Berger leads Sacred Heart in scoring (14.7 ppg) and rebounding (8.3) and has committed to Indiana. Junior Kiki Samsel adds 12.6 points per game and is shooting 49.5 percent (51 of 103) from 3-point range.
Here is the LIT schedule:
Tuesday (at Bellarmine): Christian Academy (9) vs. North Bullitt (8), 3:30; Fern Creek (12) vs. Mercy (5), 5; Central (11) vs. Bullitt East (6), 6:30; Assumption (10) vs. Eastern (7), 8
Wednesday (at Bellarmine): Central-Bullitt East winner vs. Manual (3), 3:30; Assumption-Eastern winner vs. Male (2), 5; Christian Academy-North Bullitt winner vs. Butler (1), 6:30; Fern Creek-Mercy winner vs. Sacred Heart (4), 8
Friday (at Bellarmine): Christian Academy-North Bullitt-Butler survivor vs. South Warren (State 4), 4; Fern Creek-Mercy-Sacred Heart survivor vs. Simon Kenton (State 2), 5:30; Central-Bullitt East-Manual survivor vs. Mercer County (State 1), 7; Assumption-Eastern-Male survivor vs. Henderson County (State 3), 8:30
Saturday (at Assumption): Semifinals at 10 and 11:30 a.m.; final at 8
Jason Frakes can be reached at (502) 582-4046 and firstname.lastname@example.org.