The Owensboro Catholic girls’ basketball team is headed back to the state tournament after defending their 3rd Region title, and it makes their third trip in the last four years to the Sweet 16.
The Lady Aces (27-7) struggled for two quarters and trailed 23-22 at halftime, but the defense stepped up to fend off Apollo (20-13) for a 52-38 win Tuesday night in the region championship game. After failing to get on the board in the first half, Mackenzie Keelin found a groove in the third quarter to finish with 13 points for Catholic.
Head coach Michael Robertson said during their halftime talk, he told Keelin to just settle down and play her game.
“I simply made the comment to Mackenzie Keelin, ‘Hun, if you don’t relax, you’re going to regret it. You’re too good of a player. You’re wanting it too bad,’” he said.
Keelin knocked down her first shot of the game on a 3-pointer from the left corner with 5:45 to go in the third quarter, and she smiled all the way back down the court. Midway through the frame, a steal by Caroline Reid turned into an easy bucket for Keelin, giving the Lady Aces the lead for good at 31-30.
Catholic created separation in the final minute of the period. Reid knocked down a 3 from the top of the key on an inbounds pass, and Keelin blocked a shot that led to a layup for Hannah McKay. Keelin then added another triple at the buzzer for a 41-32 lead heading into the fourth.
“That 3 she hit at the end of the third quarter was huge,” Robertson said. “That was a backbreaker for (Apollo) I think.”
Keelin added 5 more points in the final quarter, and she said the entire team seemed to click after halftime adjustments.
“We just started to believe in each other a little bit better,” she said. “I was a little bit off in the first half. In the second half we all started to get better and our shots started to fall. We picked up our defense. I think that’s what got us the win.”
The Lady Aces only allowed five baskets in the second half, using a stifling defense and strong trap game to force Apollo into turnovers. Robertson said they weren’t able to do that in the first half, and it’s what allowed Catholic to pull away down the stretch.
“I told our staff we’ve got to create turnovers in order for us to get offense,” he sad. “We thrive off easy buckets, and we got some. When we got some, their heads went down and we were able to attack and capitalize on that.”
Catholic also had to fight past an injury to Sarah Beth Clemens, who had already missed a handful of games before the tournament began. Clemens went down midway through the first period with the game tied at 7-7.
“We could have folded when Sarah Beth went down,” Robertson said. “We battled and we kept battling. This group has a giant heart and they don’t give up. I’m super proud of them and so happy for them.”
Catholic ended the first period with a 14-13 advantage, but Apollo got a quick bucket down low from Zoe Floyd and didn’t trail the rest of the half. The E-Gals took their biggest lead of the night at 18-14 on a corner 3 by Kassidy Daugherty.
Amber Dunn hit a triple for Apollo with 1:30 left in the half, but a late layup by Spencer Harvey cut the deficit to 23-22 heading into the break.
Keelin’s 13 points were a team high, and McKay added 12 while Reid scored 10. For the E-Gals, Dunn led with 15 points and Floyd finished with 12.
Catholic moves on to the KHSAA Girls Sweet Sixteen Basketball Tournament, where they will play 5th Region champion Bethlehem at 12:30 p.m. CST at Rupp Arena in Lexington.
Apollo: Amber Dunn 15, Zoe Floyd 12, Addison Carter 5, Kassidy Daugherty 3, Brylee Rhodes 3
Catholic: Mackenzie Keelin 13, Hannah McKay 12, Caroline Reid 10, Isabella Henning 4, Spencer Harvey 4, Madelyn Lyon 4, Sarah Beth Clemens 3, Ally Maggard 2