LEXINGTON – The old adage is that defense wins championships. It certainly helps you get to that point to have a shot at one.
Defense has been the bread and butter for Marshall County, which smothered Henderson County and held the Lady Colonels to just nine second half points en route to a 50-33 semifinal win Saturday at the Mangua Beef Jerky Sweet 16 Girls State Tournament.
The Lady Marshals (25-2) will make a quick turnaround from the second semifinal match to playing Sacred Heart at 7 p.m. CST for the state championship. Sacred Heart (23-7) defeated Anderson County, 63-53, earlier Saturday to advance to the title game.
Considering the physical style of play Marshall had to deal with against Pikeville and Bethlehem in the first two rounds, Presley Jezik said they feel prepared to play for their goal and dream of bringing a state girls basketball title back home for the first time since 1984.
“We’ve taken Tylenol and ice baths the last two nights,” she admitted during the post-game press conference. “We’ll get off our feet, get something to eat and we’ll be good to go.”
Early on, Henderson County (20-5) played a tough defense too that accounted for their offensive opportunities. Winners from the Second Region, the Lady Colonels built a 16-11 lead early in the second quarter and led 20-16 midway through before Marshall County hit its stride with a 12-4 run by intermission to lead 28-24.
In the second half, Marshall clamped down like a vice and kept rolling on offense for a 34-24 lead with 4:15 gone in the third period. It wasn’t until 1:29 left in the frame that Henderson’s Savannah Lacer ended a 7 ½ minute scoreless stretch.
The Lady Colonels only managed six more points while the Lady Marshals ended the game with 16 points in the fourth.
Along with the defense, Marshall County’s offense was on point. The team shot 74% from the field which set a new state tournament record and broke the previous one of 67.2% – set by Sacred Heart in 2004.
Cyson Conner, who has displayed MVP qualities all year and especially at the Sweet 16, finished with 14 points. Layne Pea added 13 and Halle Langhi 12.
A wee Pea at 5-foot, 2 inches, she was perfect by going 4-for-4 from the field, 3-for-3 on 3-point shots, and 2-for-2 on free throws. That all complimented her defensive work with a pair of steals and three rebounds.
“I’ve talked all year we get more than 5-2 of her,” coach Aaron Beth said. “She’s grown so much as a player over the last year, both offensively and defensively. She used to take shots that weren’t the best quality shots. She doesn’t do that anymore. She makes great shots. She gets down and guards, she rebounds. And here we are.”
Henderson County 12 12 3 6 – 33
Marshall County 11 17 6 16 – 50
HENDERSON COUNTY: Thomas 11, Wurth 7, Lacer 5, Dixon 4, Kemp 4, Veal 2. FG:
15/47. 3s: 2/15 (Wurth, Lacer). FT: ½. Fouks: 13. Rebounds: 22. Record: 20-5.
MARSHALL COUNTY: Conner 14, Pea 13, Langhi 12, Driver 8, Jezik 3. FG: 17/23. 3s: 6/9 (Pea 3, Driver 2, Jeziik 1). FT: 10/11. Fouls: Rebounds: 15. Record: 25-2.