March 4th, 2012
Runner-Up Assumption Gets Big Picture Win
Rockets fall to No. 1 Manual in regional championship game
To the casual passerby or sports page skimmer, the final score of Saturday night's Class Act girls' 7th Region Championship (65-43) would simply reflect another ho-hum victory for the state's No. 1 ranked DuPont Manual High School.
For Assumption, the team on the losing side of this equation, however, the story is not a bleak one.
The Rockets, which showed growth by leaps and bounds with a relatively unexpected run through the regional tournament, earned a victory in its own right by reaching the 7th Region finals, showing improvement under first-year head coach Steve Small and building momentum for a program that is receiving a makeover.
“They did everything I could have dreamt about this year for building a program,” said Small. “Like I told (the team), we put the screws in the foundation. Now we’ve got to tighten up the screws, bolt it down and go to work. And I think we’re going to be a hard team to beat (going forward).”
Assumption (17-14) proved, for roughly three quarters on Saturday, that it can compete with the area's elite. The Rockets played with no fear and actually led the nationally-ranked Lady Crimsons, 15-13, following the first quarter. AHS also trailed 31-23 late in the second quarter and was behind by that margin at halftime despite three separate possessions where Assumption failed to cut even deeper into the Manual lead.
In the third quarter, the Lady Crimsons did finally create some space and took a 42-28 lead at the 3:27 mark following a jumper by senior guard Kara Wright. But the resillient Rockets didn't back down and 6-foot-6 freshman center Nora Kiesler helped spark a 7-2 run that got Assumption back within 44-35 with 51 seconds to go in the third period.
During the stretch, Kiesler scored all 7 Assumption points, had 2 blocked shots and an offensive rebound to rally her team within striking distance of the underdog Rockets.
Assumption got the ball back on a steal by junior Brandy Hunter and had a chance to get even closer, but Kiesler's layup attempt was just off the mark, Manual junior Kayla Styles proceeded to hit a back-breaking 3-pointer at the buzzer and the Lady Crimsons went back ahead by 12 after three quarters of play.
Seventh Region favorite Manual finally did pull away for good during the fourth quarter and used a 17-6 run to go ahead of Assumption 61-41 with 2:29 remaining in the game. The Lady Crimsons advance to the KHSAA Sweet 16 in Bowling Green with the win, but Assumption certainly did not hang its collective head after the game.
“I’m pleased with the effort and with how we’ve grown up, and with how we’ve matured. You always want your team playing its best at the end of the year, and for Assumption we were playing our best basketball at the end of the year. That’s a team effort,” said Small. “Manual’s a team that, earlier in the year, could have beat us by 60 or 70 (points). Tonight, we were in the game from the get-go and I think we’ve earned people’s respect.”
Assumption's offense was overwhelmingly led by the duo of Morgan Foley and Becca Durbin during the first half. The seniors combined to go 8-of-10 from the floor during the first two quarters and had racked up 21 of the Rockets' 23 points by halftime. The rest of the team was 1-of-11 and scored just two points during the game's first 16 minutes.
Foley and Durbin, Assumption's lone seniors on the team, finished the night with a combined 23 points and 13 rebounds.
“They’re special kids. They played for four different coaches in four years. And to gut it out and to play for the love of the game, and to come in and buy into another coach your senior year is appreciated," said Small of Foley and Durbin. "They’ve grown up a lot."
Kiesler, who was named to the 7th Region All-Tournament Team with Foley, finished the game with 9 points and 4 rebounds. She was 3-of-5 from the field and hit all three of her free throw attempts. Foley had a double-double in her career finale. The Rockets finished 14-of-15 from the free throw line as a team.
AHS junior forwards Katie Friedrich (6) and Kelsey Kaiser (5) also played some productive minutes, combing for 11 points, 8 rebounds and 3 assists.
Manual had seven players score six points or more and were led in scoring by the trio of senior Leasia Wright (14), Styles (12) and senior April Wilson (10). The Lady Crimsons committed just 8 turnovers and scored 22 points off 22 Assumption turnovers.
DuPont Manual (33-12) will play the 14th Region champion in the first round of the Houchens Industries Girls' Sweet 16 on Wednesday. The likely representative from the 14th Region will be Perry County Central (29-2) - a team the Lady Crimsons defeated 70-61 in the LIT semifinals on Jan. 28.
The entire All-7th Region Tournament Team consisted of Daryius Franklin (Ballard), Bailey Reeder (Presentation), Sabrina Jackson (Seneca), Andrea Owen (Male), Paige Gardner (Christian Academy), DaiJia Ruffin (Sacr)ed Heart, Morgan Foley (Assumption), Nora Kiesler (Assumption), Leasia Wright (Manual), Kayla Styles (Manual) and April Wilson (Manual).