Sunday, March 25, 2001

Lexington Catholic wins Ky. girls title

AP Sports Writer

        BOWLING GREEN, Ky. — Manual's Chelsea Thompson strapped her teammates to her back and led them to the verge of a state championship. The dream, so close to becoming a reality, instead was derailed by her left ankle.

        With her team leading by five points with 3:25 to play in the third quarter, Thompson sprained her ankle and had to be carried, screaming in pain, from the court by her teammates and coaches.

        Lexington Catholic took advantage of the emotional shift in momentum, outscoring the Lady Crimsons 12-2 in the quarter to take control and holding on for a 36-34 victory in the finals of the girls state basketball tournament Saturday night.

        Sarah Schell rebounded her own miss and hit a 6-footer from the baseline with four-tenths of a second remaining as the Region 11 champion Lady Knights (32-4) won their second state championship in three years.

        Lexington Catholic beat Assumption 57-42 to win its first state title in 1999.

        “That's the way to end one,” a stunned Lexington Catholic coach Greg Todd said. “My God, we were lucky tonight.

        “It's a shame that somebody had to lose this game. Manual played so hard after they lost Chelsea. They hung right there with us, but our girls never gave up. They never quit.”

        Tournament Most Outstanding Player Chelsea Chowning scored 16 points and Schell finished with 11 for the Lady Knights, who beat Henderson County 53-45 in Saturday morning's semifinals to advance to the title game.

        Liz Plass finished with 18 points and Thompson had 10 before her injury for Region 7 champion Manual (27-7), who beat Muhlenberg North 40-35 to advance to the finals.

        Chandra Brown added 14 rebounds for the Lady Crimsons, who played in their first-ever state title game.

        “It hurts so bad,” Manual coach Mina Todd said. “Lexington Catholic hit the shots they needed to and made the plays down the stretch. They just denied us.”

        Manual took control from the game's opening moments and looked to be cruising toward an easy victory. Lexington Catholic missed 11 of its 12 first-quarter shots as the Lady Crimsons jumped out to a 14-6 lead.

        Manual opened the second quarter with three more baskets, increasing the margin to 20-6 before the Lady Knights finally found their range.

        Schell scored five points during a 9-2 run to pull Lexington Catholic within 22-15 with 1:15 remaining in the half. Plass' baseline jumper with a minute to play gave Manual a 24-15 halftime lead.

        For the half, Manual outshot Lexington Catholic 42 percent to 28 percent and grabbed 19 rebounds — Brown had 11 — to the Lady Knights' 13. Lexington Catholic also missed six of its 10 free-throw attempts.

        The injury, however, changed the game entirely.

        Lexington Catholic scored the first two baskets of the half to cut the margin to 24-19. On Manual's next possession, Thompson drove to the basket and came down on another player's ankle, instantly dropping to the floor and writhing in agony.

        “I knew my ankle was gone,” said Thompson, who played in her final game and will continue her career at Kansas in the fall. “I just prayed to the Lord that he would let me come back into the game, but it just wasn't going to happen.”

        The Lady Crimsons seemed lost the rest of the way. Schell's two free throws tied the game at 24 with 2:37 remaining in the quarter.

        Following a Plass jumper — Manual's only points of the quarter — Chowning hit a long 3-pointer to give the Lady Knights their first lead of the game, 27-26, entering the final period.

        Plass hit three consecutive free throws to put the Lady Crimsons back on top with 6:15 remaining. Another Chowning 3-pointer midway through the quarter gave the Lady Knights a 30-29 lead.

        Schell and Tyler Bell each hit two free throws to keep Lexington Catholic on top 34-31 with 1:26 to play. But the Lady Crimsons nearly forced the game to overtime.

        Plass stole the ball at halfcourt, got fouled on a 3-point attempt and calmly sank all three free throws to tie the game with a minute to play, sending a sobbing Thompson leaping from the bench as the Lady Knights called a timeout.

        Lexington Catholic eventually ran the clock down under 10 seconds before Schell drove the lane and launched an off-balance layup with three seconds remaining.

        She somehow gathered the ball on the left side of the lane and put it back up, leaping into the air in jubilation as the ball swished through the net and the horn sounded.

        “I don't even remember that first shot,” Schell said. “I saw the ball coming off, and I just went for it. I got it and just threw it back up.”

        Also making the all-tournament squad were Lexington Catholic's Katie Mendenhall; Manual's Thompson, Plass and Sarah McKemie; Muhlenburg North's Jade Perry and Holly Mills; Hart County's Laura Shelton and Stephanie Isaacs; Henderson County's Princess Wimsatt and Brooke Fisher; Allen County-Scottsville's Stacy Felchner; Highlands' Tara Boothe; Jackson County's Tiffany Roaden; and Scott County's Erin Brown.

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