How teams respond to the state tournament environment is an understandable concern for any coach.
For Simon Kenton head coach Brenden Stowers starting three freshman and an eighth grader, that factor was even further magnified.
On the other side, the Henderson County Colonels (27-4) made their 10th appearance in the last 11 years and 18th since 1994. Simon Kenton handled the nerves fine. The Pioneers had their chances in the double-overtime thriller, but came up just short in a 56-54 loss Thursday at Rupp Arena in Lexington.
“That was a phenomenal game,” Stowers said. “My hat’s off to Henderson County. They played a phenomenal game. (They’re an) absolute tough team. They’re going to be a tough out going forward. These girls did more than I expected them to do. They did above that. They exceeded everything that I asked of them, everything their teammates asked of them. They went out there (and) left everything on the floor, which is the only thing I ask for – played for each other and believed in themselves. We just came up on the short end.”
Stowers’ biggest concern was rebounding. Simon Kenton outrebounded Henderson County, 36-21 including an 18-8 advantage on the offensive glass. But the Pioneers only outscored the Colonels, 7-4 in second-chance points. Freshman post Haylie Webb had a double-double of 10 points and 10 rebounds.
“We were really excited and had a lot of adrenaline,” Webb said. “I think we were just ready to play.”
The turnovers and a four-point fourth quarter hurt Simon Kenton in the end. The Pioneers turned the ball over 21 times to 16 for the Colonels.
Both teams put three players in double figures. Eighth grade point guard Brynli Pernell making all nine free throws on her way to 18 points and senior forward Emilee Eggleston made three 3-pointers on her way to 17 points.
“I think this is great experience for (the younger Simon Kenton players),” Eggleston said. “It’s great to get it under their wings while they’re young. For further years, they’ll be able to come back and they’re used to it. But they have to put in the work. For us seniors, it was great for us to be able to experience it our last go-around.”
Pernell scored 10 points in the first half. But Henderson County did some different things trying to keep her out of the lane.
“I had to step up on my defense,” said Shalyn Sprinkles, Henderson County sophomore guard. “I had to stay low because I’ve been playing high here recently. I (also) had to use my speed on her because I could tell she didn’t like my type of speed, my type of defense on her.”
Senior forward Jarie Thomas led Henderson County with 19 points. Sophomore guard Shalyn Sprinkles and freshman forward Brooklyn Gibson added 11 and 10 respectively.
Simon Kenton shot 40 percent from the field including 6-of-15 from three-point land. But the Pioneers missed some big free throws down the stretch and in the overtime sessions making 14-of-19. Henderson County hit enough free throws to win the game at 19=of=22 free throws.
“It was a heck of a win. We didn’t play well early in the ballgame,” said Jeff Haile, veteran Henderson County head coach. “We let some things happen that we normally don’t let happen. We probably didn’t give our best effort early on even though we were trying. We just weren’t getting things done. Credit to the coach and that Simon Kenton team. They’re aggressive. They’re hard-nosed for as young as they are. I’m just so glad these kids persevered, which showed our character. It showed that we don’t quit.”
Henderson County finished with 13 assists to eight for Simon Kenton. Senior guard Savannah Lacer had five to lead the Colonels.
Henderson County started off with a 6-3 lead. Pernell made a three-pointer just two minutes, four seconds into the game for the first Pioneers basket.
The Pioneers finished the quarter with a 12-0 run to go up 15-6. Eggleston made two three-pointers during the run.
Simon Kenton kept the lead in the second quarter. But Henderson County found some success attacking the basket to cut the lead down to 26-22. Pernell made a lay-up with 44 seconds left. But Sprinkles hit two free throws with 28 seconds left to make the halftime score.
“We just weren’t nervous from the get-go,” Pernell said. “We just were ready to play and ready to get at it.”
Henderson County cut the lead to 27-26 with 5:10 left in the third quarter. But Eggleston and Pernell made treys on consecutive possessions to put Simon Kenton back up 35-28 with 4:06 left.
The Pioneers led 37-32 going into the fourth.
Both teams struggled to shoot to start the fourth quarter. But Eggleston hit a lay-up with 5:37 left to put Simon Kenton up 39-32.
But Henderson County chipped away. Pernell made two free throws with 43 seconds left to put the Pioneers up 41-38. But Henderson County tied it with 26 seconds left on a Sprinkles three.
After a timeout, sophomore guard Rylie Flynn tried to score in the paint. But the ball did not go in and the Pioneers turned it over. Freshman guard Anna Kelch stole the ball at halfcourt. But her heave did not go in sending the game to overtime tied at 41.
In the first overtime, Eggleston hit a reverse lay-up to put Simon Kenton up 46-44 with 56 seconds left. But Thomas hit two free throws at the other end to tie it at 46 with 33 seconds left.
Simon Kenton turned the ball over with 13 seconds left. But Henderson County did not convert in the final seconds sending the game to a second overtime.
Kelch started the second overtime with a triple from the top of the key. After a Veal lay-up, Eggleston hit a jumper with 2:47 left to put the Pioneers up 51-48 with 2:47 left. But the lead did not last long as senior guard Graci Risley made a three 18 seconds later to tie it at 51.
“On the inside, I’m gleaming with pride,” Stowers said. “I couldn’t have asked anything else of these girls. It’s my first year and they took me so I can say that selfishly. I wanted them to soak up every single moment. This something they’ll remember for the rest of their lives. These are the stories they’ll pass down to their kids and their families and it’s something special that they’ll have forever.”
After Webb made one of two free throws, Simon Kenton committed a foul and Anna Kemp made two free throws to put the Colonels up 53-52 with 2:06 left. Sprinkles hit another with 1:02 left after a Pioneer turnover to make it 54-52 Colonels.
That’s when a tough call went against the Pioneers. Pernell broke into the lane and scored. But she received a charging call with 46 seconds left giving the ball back to Henderson County. Sprinkles then hit two free throws to put Henderson County up 56-52 with 32 seconds left.
Webb scored at the other end and drew a foul. But after the ensuing free throw did not hit the rim, Henderson County inbounded the ball to end the game.
“I think we just kind of got stuck,” Stowers said. “I think our wheels were spinning in the mud a little bit. Some shots that we were usually getting and driving lanes that we were usually hitting, we weren’t seeing them. You could chalk it up to being tired. We’re used to playing full-go. But we backed off our press a lot. We understood the length of the floor was going to be a factor. We just didn’t make the plays that we had to and the ball didn’t bounce our way a couple times. There were a couple rebound, a couple loose balls that ended in their hands. Unfortunately, that’s a part of the game. But we’re going to learn from it and we’re going to come back stronger.”
Simon Kenton graduates four seniors. They are Eggleston, Belle Bach, Edyn Chenot and Joyce Cooper.
Simon Kenton has been to the state tournament six times in program history. The Pioneers are 2-6 in state tournament history making it to the state quarterfinals in 2009 and ’17. The 2009 team lost 54-44 to state semifinalist Casey County and the 2017 team lost 51-49 to eventual state runner-up Franklin County.
HENDERSON COUNTY — 6-16-10-9-5-10 — 56
SIMON KENTON — 15-11-11-4-5-8 — 54
Henderson County (56) – Thomas 19, Sprinkles 11, Gibson 10, Risley 6, Veal 4, Kemp 4, Lacer 2
Simon Kenton (55) – Pernell 19, Eggleston 17, Webb 10, Kelch 5, Gadzala 2, Flynn 1