Back to Rupp! Lady Cards repeat as 10th Region champions

Published 1:07 pm Monday, March 6, 2023

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

The George Rogers Clark Lady Cardinals have found themselves accustomed to success, winning five of the last six 10th Region championships headed into this weekend.

No amount of force – weather or otherwise – would stand in the way of another.

At the Mason County Fieldhouse, the Lady Cards (26-7) defeated Scott and Montgomery County by scores of 75-46 and 74-47 to win the 10th Region Tournament and punch their ticket to the 2023 KHSAA Girls’ Sweet 16 Basketball Tournament at Rupp Arena.

Email newsletter signup

“From the first one to this one, they’re all special to me,” said head coach Robbie Graham. “It’s a blessing.”

Initially, the 10th Region semifinal matchups were scheduled for Friday evening, with the championship game later on Sunday.

However, as was the case with many tournaments throughout the Commonwealth, inclement weather postponed competition for one night.

Yet it did not delay the Lady Cards’ determination to come out as champions.

Still, they had to battle it out.

On Saturday afternoon, against a Scott Eagles (15-15) team coming off a victory over Bracken County (19-14), the Cards trailed 14-13 following a back-and-forth opening quarter in which Autumn Ponder delivered 12 points for Scott.

However, the Lady Cards would find their groove starting in the second quarter.

Ciara Byars, who finished as the team’s and game’s leading scorer with 21 points, found her groove to nine points as the Cards grabbed the lead and built it up to 34-26 at halftime.

“We picked up intensity. We started guarding the ball better, and we started playing like ourselves,” said Byars.

To start the third quarter, the Eagles would score seven opening points.

However, the Cards would respond quickly and often.

To break the game open, GRC scored 15 unanswered points en route to a 32-6 run that saw them take a demanding lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

Much of the scoring took place with Brianna Byars on the bench after the 2023 KY Miss Basketball candidate left the game temporarily with what appeared to be a leg injury.

In her absence, reserve players like Jaylynn Goodwin – who stole the ball on Scott’s ensuing possession – helped support the Lady Cards.

“You always have to be ready to go out there and do your own thing to help the team move on,” Goodwin said.

Next, the Lady Cards faced rival Montgomery County in the 10th Region Championship Game on Sunday afternoon.

The Lady Indians (22-13) entered the game after defeating Pendleton County (21-8) and Bishop Brossart (22-12) and had given Clark their closest victory against any 10th Region opponent earlier this season.

The Cards scored on their opening possession with a three-point basket from Anaya Chestnut and took a 3-point, 16-13 lead into the second quarter.

Yet Chestnut’s opening three-point basket was far from her only of the first half.

Before the game was even halfway through the second quarter, Chestnut delivered on her fifth three-point shot with 5:47 remaining to give the Lady Cards their first double-digit, 25-13 lead.

After a year at West Jessamine High School, Chestnut is in her first year playing at George Rogers Clark High School.

“I just came into the game ready to play,” Chestnut said. “I know most of the girls here have already won region, so I just wanted a taste of how it felt…I was really motivated.”

As the first half came to a close, the Cards extended their lead to 38-23 on a three-point basket by Kennedy Stamper and eventually led 56-34 at the end of the third quarter.

Yet the Lady Indians had one last fight in them.

Led by scores from Elaine Purvis and Hayden Barrier following a turnover, Montgomery County scored five points over the first thirty seconds and defensively threatened to disrupt the Cards’ offense.

Understandably, emotions ran high, as both teams were assessed a technical foul at one point.

However, any plans the Lady Indians had to thwart the Lady Cards from winning were only temporary.

GRC rattled off 18 points in the quarter and eventually built their lead to as high as 30 en route to victory.

Afterward, they were accompanied by a police escort on Boonesboro Road while on their way to the high school as they took to celebrating the outcome.

The win not only sends the team back to Rupp Arena but does so with some historical ramifications.

By winning his seventh 10th Region Girls Championship, Head Coach Robbie Graham passes former Mason County Coach Bob Hutchison for the most in history.

He did it at the exact location where he won his first in 2014, with all five starters from that team present.

“I just want to thank God for allowing me to do what I do,” Graham said. “This has been a joy to [coach] this program.”

Also, senior Ciara Byars eclipsed Sandra Skinner as the all-time leading scorer in Lady Cards’ history.

Byars’ record currently stands at 1,987 points.

Skinner herself received honors Sunday afternoon as she was named a 10th Region Hall of Fame inductee.

“I think this is just when we’re starting to click,” Byars said. “You’ve just got to power through [adversity].”

Following the victory, the Lady Cards play Mercer County (20-13) in a Sweet 16 matchup at Rupp Arena on Wednesday, March 8, at 6:00 p.m.