There were plenty of times Wednesday for Western Hills’ Lady Wolverines to get nervous — when they fell behind by 10 points early in the second quarter and when their 10-point lead midway through the fourth quarter shrank to two points.
Instead they kept their composure, and the WHHS girls basketball team went on to beat Woodford County 66-56 in the first round of the 41st District Tournament at the Frankfort Convention Center.
“I was pretty confident,” WHHS senior Aja Leachman said. “I was confident in my teammates. We’d had some hard practices, and we worked through things we needed to do to beat them.”
The victory puts Western Hills (16-11) in Friday’s championship game against Franklin County and assures WHHS a spot in next week’s 11th Region Tournament.
It will be WHHS’ first trip to the regional tournament since 2009.
Western Hills scored the first point of the game when Kimber Sutton went to the foul line a minute and a half into the game.
Sutton went 1 for 2 for a 1-0 lead. That turned out to be the only missed free throw of the game for WHHS, which went 27 for 28 from the line.
“We’ve worked on those,” WHHS coach Buddy Ritchie said. “You could see that work tonight, and a lot of them were bigger in the fourth quarter.”
It was Woodford (11-19) that was in control early, going on a 10-0 run from late in the first quarter until early in the second for a 15-5 lead.
With 1:54 left in the second period the Lady Yellow Jackets were ahead by nine, 22-13, but WHHS closed the quarter with six straight points on a layup and two foul shots by Jenna Harrod and a layup by LaKenzie Ritchie.
That made the score 22-19 at the half, and WHHS grabbed its first lead of the second half at 27-26 on a putback by Leachman with 4:42 left in the third quarter.
By the end of the quarter Western Hills was ahead 39-34, and the Lady Wolverines opened the fourth quarter with five points on a layup by Taylor Slade and a three-point play by Taylor Vance for a 44-34 advantage.
WHHS’ largest lead came at 47-36 after a 3-pointer by Slade with six minutes left, but the Lady Jackets started chipping away.
Woodford had the lead down to two points twice, the last time at 53-51 with 2:51 remaining.
“I was just telling everybody to settle down and keep calm,” WHHS point guard LaKenzie Ritchie said. “I think I was more nervous before the game. Once the tip came the nerves went.”
Slade gave WHHS a little breathing room with her second 3 of the quarter, putting the Lady Wolverines up 56-51 at the 2:10 mark.
Slade, who scored two points in the first half, finished with a team-high 20 points.
“We had one game against Frankfort High where I only had three points in the first half,” Slade said. “I had Jenna yell at me at halftime, and I did better in the second half.
“Tonight I had her yell at me again, and my shots started to fall.”
In the last 1:14 of the game WHHS went 10 for 10 from the line to seal the victory.
“I told them Woodford was going to make a run,” coach Ritchie said, “so take a deep breath and relax. We did a good job getting the ball to our ballhandlers late in the game.”
Western Hills and Woodford had split their two regular-season games with WHHS winning 76-74 and Woodford winning 62-54.
“The truth of the matter is Monday and Tuesday we had terrible practices,” coach Ritchie said. “(Assistant coach) Connie (Goins) said that’s good, that you don’t want to have a good practice before a big game.
“I thought Kimber Sutton and Taylor Vance did a good job on Chelsey Ford. You’re not going to shut her down, but I thought they did a good job.
“We played man the whole game tonight, and that’s something we hadn’t done against them. It’s hard to play zone because they shoot the ball so well.”
Ford finished with a game-high 27 points but was the only Woodford County player in double figures.
Besides Slade, the other WHHS players in double figures were Ritchie with 16 points and Harrod with 12.
Slade had nine rebounds, and Harrod had four.
“I thought Jenna, Alexis (True) and Kenzie handled the ball really well all night,” Ritchie said.
“Aja Leachman did a super job for us. She had four points, seven rebounds and three assists, and she played hard the whole game.”
Leachman is one of two seniors on WHHS’ team, and she’ll be playing in the regional tournament for the first time in her high school career. Becca Harrod, the other senior, is out for the season with a knee injury.
“This is my last year of basketball,” Leachman said. “I probably won’t be playing basketball in college, so this was a big week. Now we get two more games. That’s phenomenal.”
WESTERN HILLS (66) — Jenna Harrod 12, Alexis True 2, Taylor Vance 5, LaKenzie Ritchie 16, Taylor Slade 20, Kimber Sutton 5, Aja Leachman 4, Samantha Roberts 2.
WOODFORD CO. (56) — Emily Harlow 6, Shelby McDonald 6, Caitlin Ferguson 8, Emily Corum 2, Anastayzia Reed 7, Chelsey Ford 27.
To see more photos from the game, click here.