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Lady Cougars drop heartbreaker in title game

By DAVID GRAVELY

editor@southwesttimes.com

 

The effort was there. There was no backing down and there was no intimidation. Unfortunately, the Lady Cougar basketball team came up just short of earning the programs first state championship Saturday, falling 51-59 to a talented Louisa County Lion squad at Pulaski County High School.

David Gravely/SWT – Junior Taryn Blankenship goes up for two points Saturday.

 

“I’m not going to lie, it stings right now,” Lady Cougar Head Coach Scott Ratcliff said. “Getting this close, seeing the girls work so hard all season … any time you lose it’s going to hurt, but when you drop the big one it just hurts more. I couldn’t be prouder of them though. They did everything we asked of them since the day we started this thing. They gave it their best shot. That’s a pretty good ball team we lost to tonight.”

 

With the memory of two years ago still on the mind of several players, Pulaski County (11-1) came out strong and took a quick lead. Ally Fleenor hit eight quick points. Freshman Jaden Lawson hit to big three pointers. Taryn Blankenship added six points. The Lions battled back after a timeout, but the Lady Cougars led 20-13 after the first period.

 

Then something happened. The Lady Cougars started having problems finding the bottom of the net. Louisa County (15-0) tightened up their defense, holding Pulaski County to just six points in the second period. Fleenor wasn’t getting good looks at the basket, limiting her to just three points. Keslyn Secrist got on the scoreboard, but only for three. At the same time, the Lion offense started to find their rhythm. Standout sophomore Olivia McGhee scored four. Lydia Wilson was good for five. Sylvie Jackson hit five of six free throws and a three-pointer for eight points. The first half ended with the Lady Cougars trailing 26-30.

 

The third period was tough on both teams. The Lions only managed seven points. The Lady Cougars only scored six. The two teams went into the fourth with Louisa County up 37-32.

 

“The second and third hurt,” Coach Ratcliff said. “It put us into a hole and when you’re playing against a team as good as they are, it’s tough to recover sometimes. Our girls never threw in the towel though. They fought tooth and nail to the end. I was really proud of our effort, especially in the fourth when we were trying to dig our way out.”

 

The Lady Cougars got within four points in the fourth period when Paige Huff hit a three-pointer, one of two on the night, at the 1:55 mark. Trailing and with time running out, Pulaski County was forced to go to their pressure defense hoping for a turnover. When they couldn’t, they were forced to foul. Louisa County hit 10 of 15 from the line in the fourth period to deny the Lady Cougars the win.

 

“That’s a good ball team we just played,” Ratcliff said. “Man, just look at their girls. Those are some great players. Our girls gave them everything they could handle. It was a great high school basketball game. Unfortunately, we came out on the short end of it.”

 

Pulaski County was led by Ally Fleenor with 20 points. Taryn Blankenship was good for nine points. Paige Huff and Keslyn Secrist hit eight points each. The Lady Cougars hit eight of 13 free throw attempts and seven three-pointers.

 

Louisa County was led by Sylvie Jackson with 20 points. Olivia McGhee added 16 and Lydia Wilson scored 14 points. Alexis Chapman scored seven and Janie Smith scored two.

 

“I hate it for our girls, but they’ve got nothing to hang their heads about,” Ratcliff said. “We had a great season. We battled through bad weather, COVID-19 and some of the best teams in the state to get here. This group has made it to the state championship game two times in the past three years and we don’t have a senior on the team. We’ll get back to work and try to have another good AAU and travel season. These girls are committed to each other and this program. I’m going to work my tail off to try to get us back here next season.”

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