Thanks to St. Elizabeth Healthcare Sports Medicine for sponsoring our girls’ high school basketball coverage once again this season. See all of our girls’ basketball stories here and watch for state tournament coverage March 8-12 from BB&T Arena on the campus of Northern Kentucky University.
By Terry Boehmker
The Holmes Bulldogs are going to the championship game of the 9th Region girls’ basketball tournament for the third consecutive year because Jaynice Stovall did what a senior veteran is expected to do when your season is on the line.
Stovall scored 11 of her team’s 16 points in the fourth quarter of a 53-50 semifinal win over Conner on Friday at BB&T Arena. In the final two minutes, the senior point guard made six free throws, one assist and one steal during an 8-0 run that put the Bulldogs on top.
Conner had a chance to tie the score at the end, but a last-second shot by Savannah Jordan fell short and the final horn sounded while players were scrambling for the loose ball.
“As a senior and being a leader on the court, I just had to pick it up,” Stovall said of her clutch performance. “Nobody else was making anything so I had to make something happen.”
Stovall played on Holmes teams that made it to the regional final the last two seasons. With her experience and maturity, Holmes coach Tony Perkins wasn’t surprised that she stepped up when the Bulldogs need her most.
“She’s been a good player all year long,” Perkins said. “She’s a senior and she’s supposed to make plays like that, and she did. When she’s out there I feel pretty good about our chances.”
Holmes lost in the 2015 9th Region final and won the title game last year. If the Bulldogs beat Cooper in the championship game at 2 p.m. Sunday, they’ll become the first team to win back-to-back titles since Boone County did it in 2009 and 2010.
Holmes took an 18-9 lead in the first quarter of the semifinal game. Junior forward Tyrah Engelmon made three 3-point shots and scored 11 points to fuel the Bulldogs’ fast start.
After going 3-for-14 from the field in the first quarter, Conner got its act together on offense and went on a 16-7 run to tie the score, 25-25, at halftime. The Cougars made four 3-point shots during that rally with Jordan hitting two of them.
The score was tied seven times during the second half before Holmes pulled ahead in the final two minutes. It started with Stovall making four free throws to give the Bulldogs 49-47 lead. Then she came up with a steal and passed the ball to teammate Laila Johnson for a breakaway basket. Stovall knocked down two more free throws to complete the 8-0 run and put her team ahead, 53-47, with 57 seconds remaining.
Conner senior center Caylee Duncan made a field goal and free throw that cut the lead to 53-50 with 13 seconds on the clock. After Holmes guard Kamari Graham missed a free throw, Conner hustled the ball up court and coach Aaron Stamm called a timeout with six seconds to go.
The ball went to Jordan on the left side of the 3-point line, but her shot barely made it to the rim and Holmes came away with the victory.
“On that last play, we switched off on screens and made it uncomfortable for them,” Perkins said. “We made them shoot a hard shot and that’s what we wanted them to do.”
Conner’s zone defense was very effective, especially in the fourth quarter when Stovall did most of the scoring for the Bulldogs.
“She made a lot of free throws and we just couldn’t get her stopped in the middle,” Stamm said. “She’s good. We tried to do all we could (on defense) to get in front of her and she made some big shots.”
Stovall made 14 of 16 free throws to account for most of her 23 points. She also had eight rebounds, four assists and three steals in the game. Engelmon finished with 16 points and eight rebounds for the Bulldogs. The leading scorer for Conner was Jordan who made four 3-pointers and netted 16 points.
Holmes beat Cooper, 68-59, in overtime during the final month of the regular season. This is the first time that Cooper has made it to the regional final, but coach Perkins doubts if that will be factor in Sunday’s championship game.
“The 9th Region’s got a lot of good teams,” Perkins said. “You’re not going to go to the state tournament without beating good people.”
CONNER 9 16 12 13 — 50
HOLMES 18 7 12 16 — 53
CONNER (27-7): Strange 3 0 6, Hurst 4 0 10, McElmore 1 2 4, Burcham 2 1 6, Duncan 2 4 8, Jordan 5 2 16. Totals: 17 9 50.
HOLMES (26-5): Johnson 4 0 9, Engelmon 6 1 16, Stovall 4 14 23, Beckett 2 0 5. Totals: 16 15 53.
Three-pointers: C — Jordan 4, Hurst 2, Burcham. H — Engelmon 3, Johnson, Beckett, Stovall.