By Dave Malaska
DRY RIDGE, Ky. – Simon Kenton earned their second-straight trip to the finals of the 8th Region tournament, slugging it out with Gallatin County on Saturday afternoon and coming away with the 78-61 win.
The Lady Pioneers (29-3) shot 37 free throws — making 28 — in a game that featured 45 fouls between the two teams, three disqualifications, two scuffles and some short tempers.
"We knew coming in that it was going to be a tough game. (Coach Jeff Stowers) told us that this wasn't going to be one of those games where we walk all over them. It was going to be tough from the get-go," said senior standout Abby Owings, who finished with 18 points against the increased attention of the Gallatin defense.
"We didn't know it was going to be that physical, though," she added.
Simon Kenton held the Wildcats' scoring leaders, senior Brooke Dossett and younger sister Hannah Dossett, well below their season average despite 50 percent shooting from the floor by Gallatin County.
The elder Dossert fouled out with a minute left to play with just 13 points. She came in averaging 19 points per game, while her sister Hannah, a junior, finished with 14 points — four shy of her average output.
Meanwhile, the Pioneers embodied balance and senior leadership.
Owings and fellow senior Christina Cook both ended the game with 18 points, while classmates Sarah Tomlin and Rachel Cox added 14 and 12 points, respectively.
Tomlin also starred defensively, charged with defending Wildcats guard Autumn Bowen for most of the night.
Bowen, who averaged 11 points per game throughout the season, scored 23 in Gallatin County's quarterfinal win over Shelby County on Tuesday. Eighteen came on 3-pointers.
Against the Pioneers and Tomlin, she managed only two points.
"Sarah did an outstanding job tonight, taking Bowen out of the picture," Stowers said. "Our big thing coming into the game was to keep them off the 3-point line. Under the basket? We're fine with that, making them beat us with a 2-point game."
Said Owings: "We played together tonight, that's why we were able to win."
Gallatin County led in the early going before a Tomlin 3-pointer gave the Pioneers their first lead midway through the first quarter, then Simon Kenton went on a quick 7-1 run go go up, 15-9. They were able to keep the Wildcats at arm's length through the rest of the half by converting from the free throw line.
Simon Kenton had a 15-3 advantage from the charity stripe over the first two quarters, taking a 40-30 lead into the break.
Gallatin County was able to get back to within five points late in the third on a Danielle Wesley free throw. That's when tempers started to flare.
With Simon Kenton on offense and up, 55-48, Bowen and Cox began pushing in the lane. Bowen was whistled for the foul, then went in for some extracurricular activity, getting in another shot on Cox. That drew a technical and Bowen a seat on the bench with her fifth foul.
Cox converted on all four free throws to give the Pioneers an 11-point lead.
Tempers flared again in the fourth when Cook and Hannah Dossett squared off during a dead ball at halfcourt, but the pair were separated without any damage.
Gallatin County cut the Pioneers' lead to six two minutes into the fourth quarter, but the Pioneers outscored them, 14-3, the rest of the way to earn a return trip for Sunday's final.
Gallatin County simply tired, said Stowers.
"We had 25 transitions in the first quarter, and something like 23 in the second. We knew, at some point, they wouldn't be able to keep up with us," he said.
Wesley, not either Dossett, was Gallatin County's leading scorer with 21 points, nearly all coming in the paint or the free throw line.
For Simon Kenton, the win sets up Sunday's final with a very familiar opponent. Anderson County defeated Oldham County, 62-42, in Saturday's late game to earn the other position in the title game.
The Pioneers and Bearcats (26-4) have met four times in the final over the past seven years, splitting the matchups.
Said Stowers: "We know them very well, and they know us just as well."
Anderson is paced by the all-region senior duo of Makenzie Can, who has committed to the University of Cincinnati, and Eriel McKee, who is headed to Morehead State.
Last year, the Bearcats were able to rally from 10 down with 90 seconds remaining in the regional final against Simon Kenton, sending the game to overtime on a late McKee basket.
In overtime, they outscored Simon Kenton, 7-5, to move on to the state tourney where lost in the semifinals to eventual state champion Marion County, 72-49.
The loss in the regional final has stayed with the Pioneers, said Stowers.
"I told them that as hard as they worked to get there last year, they would have to work even harder to get back to the regional final," he said. "Now that we're here, they just have to go out and get it."
Sunday's tip-off is at 3 p.m. at Grant County High School.
GALLATIN CO. 11-19-22-9—61
SIMON KENTON 17-23-21-17—78
GALLATIN COUNTY (20-8): Wesley 8 4 21, H. Dossett 5 1 14,
B. Dossett 4 5 13, Satchwell 4 0 9, Terrell 0 2 2, Bowen 1 0 2. Totals 22 12 61.
SIMON KENTON (29-3): Owings 5 8 18, Cook 4 10 18, Tomlin 6 2 15, Cox 2 7 12, Schmiade 1 0 2, Clark 1 0 2, Hester 4 0 8, Bosse 1 1 3. Totals 24 28 78.
3-pointers: GC—H. Dossett 3, Wesley, Satchwell. SK—Cox, Tomlin.