The song 1999 was a top 20 hit by Prince and 1999 was the last time that the Russellville Lady Panthers won the 13th District Girls’ Basketball Tournament… until now. The Lady Panthers put together four solid quarters, withstood some adversity, and came away with the District Championship with a 45-40 victory over the Logan County Lady Cougars last Thursday night at Todd County Central High School.
The two championship teams are forever linked. Just like the 1999 team, the Lady Panthers headed into the tournament as the number four seed. Also, current players LaReesha Cawthorne’s and A’miyah Collier’s mothers, Ashley Kees and Leslie Todd each played important roles in leading their team to the championship, just like their daughters have done as well.
“I have heard all the talk the last three years that we haven’t won a girls’ district tournament since 1999,” A’miyah Collier said. “We’re a great group of girls that have been playing together since 5th grade, and this was my mom’s plan for myself, Jaylah (Kees), Brinley (Mason), and Jordin (Morris) for our senior year. We made it happen and we did it.”
“Anytime I walk in a gym, I look at the championship banners and I knew that this school hasn’t won a girls’ district tournament in 24 years,” Lady Panthers’ head coach Orlando Hayden said. “We have five seniors, and I knew that once we got going into the season, this would be their year to win it.”
The Lady Cougars focused their defensive attention on the Lady Panther’s dynamic duo of LaReesha Cawthorne and A’miyah Collier, which meant someone had to step up. Brinley Mason did that in the 1st Quarter as she knocked down a 3-pointer to lead all scorers with nine points. Takiyah Mason led the Lady Cougars with four points as Russellville led 13-8 at the end of one.
“Before the game, I told the team that I was going to put my all into this one, and that’s exactly what I did,” Brinley Mason said. “I came out and gave it everything that I got, and during warm-ups, I was focused and making sure that I was ready.”
The Lady Panthers held Logan County to two field goals by Gracie Borders and Mason in the 2nd Quarter. LaReesha Cawthorne scored six points as she picked up her 2nd foul of the 1st Half. Brinley Mason and Jordin Morris each provided baskets in the quarter as Russellville led 24-13 at halftime.
“Brinley (Mason) and Jordin (Morris) stepped up for us big,” Hayden said. “They made shots that they normally would not have made. They were double-teaming A’miyah (Collier) and Lareesgha (Cawthorne) and that was big for us. We needed every point they scored.”
Cawthorne and Collier each scored four points in the 3rd Quarter as they had their biggest lead of the game at 32-15. But the game drastically changed as Cawthorne picked up her 3rd and 4th foul in the quarter, and the Lady Cougars took advantage. Brenley Adler scored Logan County’s first field goal of the quarter, with Gracie Borders and Nora Epley each making a pair of free throws as they trailed 32-21 at the end of three.
Adler and Gracie Borders each scored four points with Epley’s 3-pointer igniting a 15-2 run that cut the deficit down to 37-36. Collier scored three points with Cawthone’s two free throws. This kept the Lady Panthers in the lead, however, Gracie Borders kept Logan County close, trailing 42-40. Jaeda Poindexter made a free throw and Morris’ basket in the closing seconds gave Russellville their first 13th District Girls’ Basketball Tournament Championship in 24 years, as they defeated their cross-town rival Logan County 45-40.
“The focus and winning mentality started at Saturday and Sunday’s practice. We had confidence in each and every one of our players that we were going to beat Franklin-Simpson and Logan County to win the district. We had great game plans for both games. We practiced everything including cutting down the nets so they can envision themselves doing that this week. Once they did that, I told them ‘if you want the nets, go get it on Thursday night’ and they did,” said the coach.
LaReesha Cawthorne and Brinley Nason led all scorers with a game-high of 14 points each with A’miyah Collier adding 12. Gracie Borders, Emily, and Takiyah Mason each led the Lady Cougars with eight points each.
“The game changed a lot when I picked up my fourth foul,” LaReesha Cawthorne said. “It kind of took away from me playing aggressively. I had to be very careful and coach (Tony) McKinney kept reminding me to play smart.”
Both teams qualified to compete in the 4th Region Girls’ Basketball Tournament at E.A. Diddle Arena on the campus of Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green.
Russellville won the first round of the 4th Region Girls’ Basketball Tournament on Sunday. That article will run in the Friday, March 3rd edition of the News-Democrat & Leader.
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