By Dave Malaska
DRY RIDGE, Ky. – Simon Kenton's season ended in a familiar way as the Pioneers fell to Anderson County, 49-38, Sunday in the 8th Region title game at Grant County High School.
The Pioneers (29-4), who lost last year's regional final to the Bearcats in overtime, struggled offensively on Sunday, shooting under 30 percent from the field and finishing 28 points below their season scoring average.
"We just didn't do what we do and they were a better team than we were today,” Simon Kenton coach Jeff Stowers said. “They were a better team than we were last year at this time.
"We didn't run our sets right. We didn't screen, we missed layups — those were our Achilles heels all year long. We didn't play all 32 minutes. If you don't play 32 minutes as a team, this is what happens. The same result."
Abby Owings led the Pioneers with 14 points and 10 rebounds but was hampered by the Bearcats' defense much of the night. Anderson County blocked four of her shots and held her to 6 of 20 shooting from the field. No other Pioneer made it to double figures.
"Eriel (McKee) was guarding me. She's so much bigger, so it was tough to get shots off," Owings said. "We all just couldn't get shots off. We couldn't finish. It just wasn't our game. "
Said Stowers: "Abby had too much to do on her own. We just didn't have anybody step up like we needed them to."
Christina Cook finished with six points. Madi Meier and Sarah Tomlin had five points apiece to round out Simon Kenton's leaders. Tomlin also had eight rebounds.
While the Pioneers struggled on offense, Anderson's Eriel McKee was a wrecking ball to the Pioneers' state tournament hopes. The senior, who was named the tournament MVP, finished with 32 points. She had 14 in the first half and locked down the win with 11 points in the fourth quarter, including nine from the free throw line.
Simon Kenton opened the game with a basket from Rachel Cox in the paint then an Owings 3-pointer and led until a Jessica Rice 3-pointer for Anderson gave the Bearcats their first lead midway through the quarter.
The Pioneers regained the lead on a Cook driving jumper with 31 seconds remaining in the first, but McKee hit an open 3-pointer early in the second quarter to put the Bearcats up, 14-12. She followed that with a three-point play after Tomlin fouled her under the basket on Anderson County's next possession, then added another trey shortly after as the Bearcats took command and never looked back.
They led by seven at the break and took a double-digit lead early in the third on another three-point play by McKee on a Owings foul in the paint.
The Pioneers cut the deficit to five points on Owings' 3-pointer from the corner with 3:45 left in the game but couldn't get any closer.
"When I hit that 3-pointer, it gave us some hope. I told (teammates) 'Let's go, we can do this,' but it just didn't happen," Owings said. "You have to give Anderson credit. They were better than us today."
McKee scored seven points down the stretch, including five from the free throw line, to nail down the win.
"It was the same thing as last year. She's a load," Stowers said.
In last year's final, McKee hit a late basket to force overtime and helped the Bearcats prevail in extended time.
"We've played her before, so we knew what she was going to do,” Stowers said. “We tried to play her to drive, and we got away from that. You stay off of her, let her hit a couple of jump shots, but you know she's coming to the basket. If we were disciplined and did what we were supposed to, she doesn't have that kind of a game, but we got away from what we wanted to do."
All-Region Player of the Year Makenzie Cann added 12 points to the Bearcats' tally, but the night belonged to McKee.
"Eriel was awesome. People are going to look at her 32 points, but to me, she had just as good a game defensively," said Cann of McKee, who also registered five blocked shots. "She kept Owings from having a big game, which was big for us."
The loss snapped Simon Kenton's 16-game win streak and ended the high school career of the nine seniors on the experienced squad, including Owings, Cook and Tomlin — all named to the regional tournament honors after the game.
"Making it to the regional finals again says a lot about their body of work," Stowers said. "Our kids are to be commended, especially our seniors. They did everything we asked, from the conditioning program, to the summer program right through to the season.
"They were on a mission to prove themselves after last season's loss. It just didn't happen.”
Owings said the group is especially close after coming so far again.
"They're all my best friends. I'm not even mad that we lost so much as knowing that I'm not going to get to play basketball with my best friends ever again," she said.
Notes: Simon Kenton's 38 points was a season low. Its previous low was a 72-50 loss to Newport Central Catholic on Jan. 9. The Pioneers other two losses came on low scoring outputs against Allen Co.-Scottsville (51) and Elizabethtown (52)…
Anderson was 18-of-23 from the free throw line, including McKee's 14-of-17. The Pioneers shot only 10 free throws, sinking six. They made only one of four attempts through three quarters… Owings will play for Thomas More College next year, joining another local standout, former Boone County's Sydney Moss… After the game, the regional tournament team was announced, including Owens, Cook and Tomlin from Simon Kenton and Anderson's Cann and Destiny Stewart. Other honorees were Walton-Verona's Hailey Ison, Brooke Dossett and Hannah Dossett (Gallatin County), Jenna Kirk and Ashley McMurtry (Oldham County), Justice Martin (Shelby County), Abby VanZant (South Oldham) and Kimberly Farmore (Henry County) McKee was named the tournament MVP.
ANDERSON CO. 11-16-11-11—49
SIMON KENTON 12- 8- 8-10—38
ANDERSON COUNTY (27-4): McKee 8 14 32, Cann 3 4 12, Rice 1 0 3, Walker 1 0 2. Totals 13 18 49.
SIMON KENTON (29-4): Owings 6 0 14, Hester 1 0 2, Cook 3 0 6, Cox 2 0 4, Bosse 0 2 2, Meier 2 1 5, Tomlin 1 3 5. Totals 15 6 38.
3-pointers: AC—McKee 2, Cann 2, Rice. SK—Owings 2.