GRC girls top Mason County to win 10th Region Tourney

Published 3:23 am Sunday, March 5, 2017

CYNTHIANA — The Mason County High School girls basketball team had a shot on the rim when the buzzer sounded to end regulation. It dropped through and it certainly looked like the Royals had won over George Rogers Clark in dramatic fashion.

But whistles were blowing. Mason senior Briana McNutt had traveled and the 10th Region Tournament championship game was going to overtime.

The Cardinals, who held on to win 56-53, knew things were going to go their way.

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“She hit that layup and I thought it was going to count, and I got really scared for a second, but they called it a walk,” GRC senior Kylee Murray said. “I told everyone when they came over, ‘They called the walk because it’s our championship to win, not theirs. We get another chance.’ And we came back and won. I think this might be the best feeling I’ve ever had in my whole life.”

If not for the traveling violation, Mason would have completed a second-half comeback that had threatened to put the tiring Cardinals away.

“If it’s a travel in the first quarter, it’s a travel in the fourth quarter,” GRC coach Robbie Graham said. “Good officials don’t look at the scoreboard. They call the game like they’re supposed to. I don’t question that at all. I told them, ‘If it had been the other way, you pat them on the back and say good call, and play the next play.’”

On to overtime the game went and after the Royals turned the ball over in the opening possession, GRC’s Kennedy Igo hit a 3-pointer to put the Cardinals on top to stay.

After Whitney O’Mara hit one of two free throws on the other end, the Cardinals burned some clock before another big basket, this time from Maleaha Bell, who posted up her defender and scored inside.

“I knew we needed a bucket and I knew I had a mismatch on me,” Bell said. “I was close enough to the basket to score so I just went.”

That gave the Cardinals a two-possession lead. O’Mara hit a jumper to make it 55-53. The Royals got the ball back after a miss but turned it over with 18 seconds left, fouling Sha’Maya Behanan in the process.

She made one of two at the line to give the Cards a three-point edge at 56-53.

Mason had another crack, but missed multiple putback attempts inside as the clock ran down. Finally, GRC came away with the ball and watched the final three seconds tick away, then the celebration started.

The Cardinals played with a 10-point cushion for much of the first half, only a Mason push in the third quarter and a run to start the fourth made it a nip-and-tuck contest late.

“We started really well,” Graham said. “They made a run and we got a little tight. We had some crucial turnovers and breakdowns on defense, couple loose balls we didn’t get. We got shell-shocked a little bit. We’ve got big-eyed and a little shaky.

“I told them to calm down. They’re a good team. We knew they were going to make a run. We just tried to play the next play. Don’t live and die on every play.”

The Cardinals knew they had to keep grinding to keep the senior-laden Royals at bay.

“We had to keep it up,” senior Elizabeth Hardiman said. “Defense is key. Rebound the ball and do what we know how to do.”

Igo put in a game-high 19 points to lead the Cardinals. Bell finished with eight points and four assists.

Behanan had 13 points and nine rebounds. Hardiman and Jasmine Flowers each had five points. Tyra Flowers added three points. Hayley Harrison had five assists and Murray pulled down four rebounds.

The Royals were led by Jordan Frodge’s 15 points. AJ Reed had 11. O’Mara finished with 13 and McNutt put in eight points.

GRC improves to 29-4 while Mason finished its season at 23-9.

The Cardinals earn a berth in the state tournament. They face Harlan at 8 p.m. Wednesday in BB&T Arena.