By Dan Wright
Boone County head coach Nell Fookes says the last time she can remember one of her teams missing the regional tournament was back in her second year of coaching at the school.
Tuesday night, the Rebels kept that fact a distant memory, making eight-of-10 free throws in overtime to tough-out a 59-57, overtime win against Conner in the 33rd District tournament semifinals at Boone County.
The win moves Boone County into Thursday’s district final against Ryle and guarantees the Rebels a spot in next week’s 9th Region tournament, despite the fact Conner was the No. 1 seed in the tournament while Boone entered as the No. 4 seed.
“The No. 1 seed in this district doesn’t matter,” said Conner head coach Aaron Stamm. “You know you’ve got a tough team (to play).”
Few No. 1 seeds had a tougher draw than Conner, which faced a Boone County team that has reached the 9th Region tournament every season this century and was hosting the district tournament.
Buoyed by the home crowd, the Rebels jumped out to a 20-17 lead on the strength of four 3-pointers, two by junior forward Dallas Knotts.
“(That fast start) ended up being great, because we were just as cold in the third quarter,” said Boone County head coach Nell Fookes.
After a sluggish second quarter saw the Rebels go into the half ahead, 29-22, Conner made its run in the third quarter.
An 8-0 run pulled the Cougars to within a point, 31-30, on junior guard Brooke Maine’s 3-pointer, and Conner took its first lead since 2-0 when Maines put back her own miss to go ahead 35-34, with under two minutes remaining in the quarter.
Conner’s lead grew to as many as five points, 42-37, in the fourth quarter, but sophomore guard Alexis Switzer made two free throws and three straight baskets by the Rebels put Boone County ahead, 45-42 with just over four minutes remaining.
Although the Rebels would not hit a field goal for the rest of the game, they managed to make six of eight through the rest of the quarter to make it to overtime.
“We made free throws down the stretch and we played great defense,” said Fookes.
Conner, on the other hand, missed the front-end of two one-and-one free throws which could have put the game away after junior center Maddie Meyers made two free throws to put the Cougars ahead, 51-50, with 52.0 seconds remaining.
“We missed a couple of free throws late,” Stamm said. “We just didn’t do what we needed to do late in the game and good teams make you pay.”
Boone County senior guard Jessica Jones made one of two free throws with 16.6 seconds remaining to tie the score, and Conner’s last-second 3-pointer missed, sending the game to overtime.
Neither team scored a basket through the first four-and-a-half minutes of overtime, but the Rebels connected on seven of eight free throws to take a 58-51 lead.
“That was the idea, to get to the line,” Fookes said. “Drive it in and they’re either going to foul you or your going to score a layup.”
Senior forward Jordan Scott and Meyers made 3-pointers for Conner in the final 16.0 seconds, with Jones making a free throw in between, to account for the final points in the game.
“Everybody didn’t believe in us. They didn’t think we were going to get anywhere,” said Jones, who had 14 points and 15 rebounds for the Rebels. “Though there was a difference in talent than what we had last year, and it’s true we didn’t have the same amount of talent, but we still have the same amount work ethic.”
The Rebels won despite shooting just 28.3 percent from the field (17-for-60), including just 18.2-percent in the second half (6-for-33). Boone County made 19-of-28 free throws (67.9 percent) and outrebounded the Cougars, 53-44.
Sophomore guard Alexis Switzer scored a team-high 17 points for Boone County.
Conner made 34.9-percent of its shots from the floor (22-for-63) and just 7 of 17 free throws (41.1 percent). Conner was led by Meyers, who had 21 points, and Scott, who had 17 points and 15 rebounds.
Although Boone County has won five of the last ten 9th Region titles, Fookes said just making it to the regional tournament with this year’s team is just as special.
“I thinking coaching this group of kids makes me really remind me why I coach. It’s not just because you can win all the time, although that does make you’re nights a little easier when we’re sleeping, it’s because you love the game, you love being around the girls, and you love teaching the game and it's very gratifying when they step up and do what they have. It means a lot.”
BOONE CO. 20-9-6-16-8—59
BOONE COUNTY (16-11): Ford 4 1 12, Jones 4 6 14, Switzer 4 8 17, Knotts 3 4 12, McQueary 2 0 4. Totals 17 18 59.
CONNER (22-8): Pluto 2 0 4, Maines 5 1 13, Meyers 7 6 21, Hendricks 1 0 2, Scott 7 0 17. Totals 22 7 57.
3-pointers: BC--Ford 3, Knotts 2, Switzer. C--Scott 3, Maines 2, Meyers.
RYLE 65, COOPER 50 -- Every year since 2009, the Ryle Raiders have faced the Boone County Rebels in the 33rd District final. Tuesday