By Dave Malaska
ERLANGER, Ky. — St. Henry scored the game's last eight points en route to a 47-40 win in Friday night's 34th District girls' final, ruining Dixie Heights' comeback bid.
The Colonels, who trailed by as many as 13 in the second half, fought back to take a 40-39 lead on Samantha Koth's 3-pointer from the shoulder with just over two minutes remaining in the game, but then the Crusaders turned up their defense.
The Colonels were 0-for-4 from the field the rest of the way as Savannah Neace registered two blocked shots, grabbed two rebounds and scored one of the Crusaders' final baskets to help St. Henry nail down its fifth district title in the last six years — avenging last year's final loss to Dixie Heights by an identical, albeit reversed, score.
"We do like to make them exciting, don't we?" said St. Henry coach Paul Sturgeon after the game, as his squad cut down the nets. "We just can't do anything easy, it seems. But you've got to give credit to Dixie. (Coach Tara Smith) has a great team, with a bunch of fantastic players. They're going to do well in the regionals."
Sturgeon said his team fell into an inexplicable slump after taking a double-digit lead in the third quarter. After going up, 33-20, they made only three of six field goal attempts and missed several free throws until the final run, allowing Dixie Heights back in the game.
Meanwhile, the Colonels were hitting on all cylinders. They were led by Liza Tibbs' game-high 14 points, along with nine points from Alexis Strong.
"They hit tough, contested shots to claw back into it, but that's what's so great about our group," Sturgeon said. "They've been so resilient all year. We've lost so many girls to injuries throughout the season, but the next person always stepped up did what they had to do. They never tucked their tails. They kept fighting."
After a tight first half, the Crusaders made their move in the third quarter, going on a 9-0 run until Tibbs finally got Dixie Heights on the scoreboard with a three-point play with 50 seconds left in the quarter. Down 24-20 at the half, they started the final 8:00 trailing, 33-23.
The teams traded baskets early in the fourth quarter until Dixie started chipping away at the Crusaders lead. Another Tibbs three-point play made it 37-25 with three minutes remaining, then Koth's trey gave them the brief lead.
"We just dug ourselves too big of a hole, but we bounced back. Our kids don't quit," Smith said. "We expended so much energy coming back that we didn't have it at the end."
Tibbs finished with nine rebounds to go with her 14 points, while her St. Henry counterpart, Neace, finished with 11 points, four rebounds and four blocked shots in yet another great matchup between the pair.
"They're like Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell," joked Sturgeon. "That's the third time we've played them this year, and they've both had great games each time. I just think, this time, Savannah decided she wasn't going to be denied."
Said Neace: "We've got the same build, we both play in the post and we both like to play physical, so there are a lot of similarities. She's so tough to guard, but it's fun playing them."
The Crusaders also got 10 points from freshman Paige Noble, nine from junior Karly Lehmkuhl and eight from senior Trisha Marks in the win.
ST. HENRY 13-11-9-14—47
DIXIE HEIGHTS 13-7-3-17—40
ST. HENRY (18-11): Schreiber 0 3 3, Miller 1 4 6, Marks 4 0 8, Neace 5 1 11, Noble 5 0 10, Lehmkuhl 2 4 9. Totals 17 12 47.
DIXIE HEIGHTS (13-17): Odom 1 0 2, East 0 1 1, Koch 3 0 8, Brock 1 0 2, Tibbs 5 4 14, Davis 0 2 2, Strong 3 3 9, Diamon 1 0 2. Totals 14 10 40.
3-pointers: SH—Lehmkuhl. D—Koch 2.