Danville girls push DCA aside for fourth straight district title

Published 11:51 am Monday, February 27, 2023


Contributing Writer

STANFORD — The Danville girls are no 10-win team.

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That’s what Judie Mason tried to tell her players before this season, and while that was just a coach motivating her players, when the season began it was hard to imagine the Lady Admirals could be as good as they were a year ago.

Yet there they were Thursday night, celebrating yet another district championship after a record-setting victory in the 45th District Tournament final.

Danville’s blend of veterans and rising young players turned out to be the ideal formula for success both throughout the season and in the district title game, where the Lady Admirals pulled away from Danville Christian in the second half for a 56-38 victory.

“They heard the noise that they wouldn’t be very good … and I even led them on a little bit. I told them at the beginning of the year they wouldn’t win 10 games,” Mason said. “I heard them a lot of times say, ‘We’ll prove her wrong,’ and they did, and I’m glad they proved me wrong.”

Danville outscored DCA 20-6 in a dominant third quarter, using its trademark defensive pressure to take control of what had been a close game in the first half.

Seniors Love Mays and Desiree Tandy combined for 40 points in a victory that gave Danville a school-record 28 wins, one more than it had a year ago in one of its best seasons ever, and assured the Lady Admirals of the best winning percentage in school history as well.

And it gave the Lady Admirals their fourth consecutive district championship, something Mays said they didn’t think would be possible as she and her senior teammates tried to help younger players learn the Danville way after the team lost three starters to graduation.

“No, because the whole team is pretty young,” Mays said. “We wanted everybody to be able to learn the defense and learn the offense so we would be able to push the ball and we wanted to make sure that everybody knew what they were doing. We were pretty iffy, and we weren’t 100 percent confident that we would be winning as many games as we are and would get to where we are right now.”

Danville (28-2) has won nine straight games since a loss to Pikeville in the All “A” Classic and is 27-1 since a season-opening loss to Pulaski County.

Four of those wins have come against DCA, a team the Lady Admirals have beaten seven straight times by an average margin of 16 points since losing to the Lady Warriors for the first time in January 2022.

“We don’t like the taste of losing in our mouth, so ever since that loss … every time we’ve played them since we’ve said we’ve got to turn it up, because we’ve got to be the Danville team,” Tandy said.

Danville turned it up in the third quarter Thursday, using a 14-0 run to turn a 26-23 deficit into a 37-26 lead.

“Our defense, we just turned it up,” Tandy said. “We were communicating, we were trusting each other, we were following the scouring report that our coaches gave us. We were just following the game plan because we knew what we had to do.”

Defense had been Danville’s best asset in a back-and-forth first half, as the Lady Admirals forced 18 DCA turnovers but still trailed 22-21.

They took the lead for good at 27-26 on a layup by Tandy, then took control of the game when Myla Turner hit a 3-point shot on their next trip.

“Myla hit a big shot … and that got us into our defense and we got them into a running game,” Mason said. “I told them at halftime, ‘It’s a one-point game and we have totally played their game the first half,’ so I was fine at halftime. I thought we were right in the driver’s seat, and I thought the first three or four minutes of that third quarter really was the difference.”

DCA (20-6) had seven turnovers and only two field goals in the third quarter, and the Lady Warriors finished with 27 turnovers and 14 field goals.

“They put Mays on our point guard, and it’s one of those growing experiences,” Inmon said. “It was just one of those times you saw our youth a little bit. I was glad, though, because they still gave the effort. … We got outplayed, but I don’t think we could have worked any harder.”

Mays scored 28 points, giving her 52 in two tournament games, and she was 15 for 19 at the free-throw line in the final 10 1/2 minutes. Tandy added 12 points and a team-high nine rebounds.

The Lady Admirals got big 3-point baskets in the second half from Turner and Jazelynn Doneghy, who had seven and five points, respectively, and are two of the sophomores who have made significant contributions in the second half of the season.

“They’re huge for us,” Tandy said. “Us being seniors, people are going to (focus) on us, so them stepping up and taking advantage of the opportunities they’re being given on the court is huge for them. I’m really proud of them.”

Mason said the sophomores’ play has made a difference, as has the leadership of Mays, Tandy and fellow seniors Samantha Bottom and Bryn Gooch.

“They haven’t thought they were better than this sophomore class. They’ve taken them under their wing and been big sisters for them. That’s really been fun to watch them grow,” Mason said.

Danville was 9 for 23 from the field in the second half after going 8 for 33 in the first half. DCA opened 8 for 19 and was 5 for 25 after halftime.

Grace Mbugua, the state’s leading rebounder, had 16 points and 22 rebounds for the Lady Warriors, whose six-game winning streak ended. Alexia Baldock and Victoria Inmon added seven points each.

Danville will be among the favorites in the 12th Region Tournament, which opens Monday at Pulaski County, but Mason said she wouldn’t be surprised to see DCA make a run as well.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if we see them again in the championship game. They’re that good,” Mason said. “Right now they just have a hard time with us, but that team is going to beat somebody in the regional tournament.”

Billy Inmon said the Lady Warriors will be better prepared for that stage than they were a year ago, when they suffered a first-round loss to Somerset in their first-ever regional game.

“Last year they were just happy to be here. … This time they’re hungry. It’s not good enough to make it. And that’s a good place to be,” he said. “We haven’t had a loss in a little bit, and I think it’s always good to refocus and say, ‘Oh, we have to go out and take it. People aren’t going to roll over and just let us win.’”

All-Tournament Team

Alexia Baldock, Danville Christian; Sarah Jennings, Garrard County; Love Mays, Danville; Grace Mbugua, Danville Christian; Chloe Ralston, Lincoln County; Desiree Tandy, Danville; Annabelle Tarter, Boyle County; Myla Turner, Danville.