DRAFFENVILLE – A send-off is scheduled for Wednesday morning at Marshall County High School’s Shadowen Performing Arts Center. It’s the 21st time in the 39 years of modern high school basketball in Kentucky that the Lady Marshals have had occasion to need such an event.
The team and cheerleaders will depart shortly after the 10:15 a.m. celebration. Their destination is Bowling Green, and Western Kentucky University’s Diddle Arena, and a date with Letcher County Central at 6:30 Thursday evening in the seventh of eight opening-round games.
The Lady Marshals are the First Region’s representatives in the Sweet Sixteen for the second year in a row.
“It feels amazing,” senior Rachael Reed said. “Not just for us because we’re seniors, but for the tradition of Marshall County. We don’t want it to stop here.”
Coach Joseph Simmons complimented his team as they went through weekend workouts.
“They definitely deserve this, because they’ve worked hard for it,” Simmons said.
Last year’s team battled Hopkinsville to the wire before falling, 56-52. That, Simmons said, has hardened the resolve of this year’s returning players, who are hungry to advance in the big tournament.
This year’s opponent, the Lady Cougars from the 14th Region, are 29-5. The Lady Marshals are 26-9, very close to last year’s mark of 27-8 going into the state tourney.
Letcher Central is a veteran team, Simmons said, with four senior starters.
“They’ve got some great shooters, that’s the thing that’s scary,” Simmons said. “They’ve got two girls – one girl’s made 75 threes [Vannah Breeding] and the other one’s made 71 [Kelah Eldridge]. We’ve got one girl [Taylor Meadows] that’s made 73.”
In addition, Simmons said, the Lady Cougars are shooting 66 percent from the free-throw line and have some inside strength and rebounding capability.
Eldridge leads the team with an average of 17.5 points per game. Julie Cornett is second at 12 ppg and Breeding is just below double figures at a nine-point clip.
“We want to limit [Eldridge’s] touches and make her work for everything she gets,” Simmons said.
Marshall will counter Meadows, the team’s only double-figures scorer at 17.1. Mariah McKenty hits for 9.1 per game and Alex Brown is at 7.2. All three are seniors.
Brown and sophomore Alyssa Barnard give the Lady Marshals a formidable post presence. Barnard is averaging 5.6 points and 5.7 rebounds, just behind Brown’s team-leading 6.4 rebounding average.
Letcher Central had an even tougher battle to advance to the Sweet Sixteen than Marshall County. The Lady Cougars defeated Perry County Central 41-40 in the finale.
Neither team has much experience playing other Sweet Sixteen entries. The Lady Marshals lost to Second Region champ Henderson County (26-2) and Letcher Central split a pair of games with the 15th Region’s Shelby Valley (28-4).
Simmons has high hopes.
“You get up there, you never know what can happen,” he said. “That’s the exciting thing about this time of year.”
Key points are to contest shooters and not lose them in transition or in the half-court defense and rebounding.
“I like our chances if we go over there and play hard and play intense,” he said.