DCA girls Rupp Arena-bound after winning school’s first title

Published 1:54 pm Monday, March 11, 2024

Rupp Arena was a dream when the season began, but now it’s a destination.

The Danville Christian girls are on their way to Rupp and the Girls Sweet 16 after winning the school’s first 12th Region championship Saturday night.

DCA’s 63-47 victory over West Jessamine in the regional final capped a rapid climb to the top of 12th Region basketball that will take the Lady Warriors to the state’s biggest stage this week.

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“At the beginning of the year we set goals, and my goal was I wanted to set foot on Rupp Arena’s floor, and we’ve stuck with that goal,” DCA guard Braxtyn Heck said. “And it was a dream, obviously, but we knew that we could achieve that dream.”

Seven years after DCA joined the KHSAA and five years after it became eligible for postseason play, the Lady Warriors took their school to new heights with what was easily the biggest win in an era of significant firsts for its athletic program.

Grace Mbugua had 31 points and 27 rebounds to lead DCA (29-2), which pulled away from West Jessamine (26-9) in the second half of a battle between teams that had never won a regional tournament game prior to this season.

The Lady Warriors won all three of their tournament games by nearly identical scores – 61-47, 62-47 and 63-46 – and finished 20-0 against 12th Region teams this season with an average winning score of 63-37.

They will make their Sweet 16 debut when they face 9th Region champion Cooper at 8:30 p.m. Thursday in Rupp Arena.

“It’s not sunk in yet,” DCA coach Billy Inmon said. “I had seen, I had dreamed that this was possible, but my mind just hasn’t got wrapped around it just yet. Probably it’ll hit me tomorrow.”

Mbugua had 31 points, 27 rebounds and six blocked shots to lead DCA, and she finished with 102 points and 52 rebounds in its three tournament games.

She scored 17 points in the second half and had 12 of the Lady Warriors’ 17 points in the third quarter, including the first six points in an 11-4 run that gave them a 41-31 lead.

She teamed with Amauri Blackford and reserve Emily Musasi to produce the points in an 8-0 run that stretched DCA’s advantage to 49-33 with 5:04 remaining.

“At halftime, I told her … ‘You might be doing a lot, but you’re not doing what you can do,’” Inmon said. “And she said, ‘Well, I’m trying to be careful with my fouls.’ After the third quarter she still only had one foul, and I think that emboldened her to just really be more aggressive, because she knows we have to have her out there.”

Mbugua asserted herself in the third quarter of all three regional games, totaling 35 points in the three periods.

“It’s my teammates trusting in me,” she said. “Whenever the ball isn’t going in the hole, they just keep telling me, ‘You got it.’”

Paisley Metz scored 11 points and Blackford and Heck added seven each for DCA. Blackford also had eight rebounds, while Grace Meyer had six for the Lady Warriors, who outrebounded the Lady Colts 31-21 in the second half and 55-39 overall.

Inmon said Heck was given room to make plays while the West Jessamine defense focused on Mbugua in the paint and on other shooters, and he said the offense had been erratic but improved as she settled down.

“I asked her, ‘What’s wrong?’ … and she said, ‘Coach, I just want it so bad,’ and I said, ‘Well, I can understand because I do, too,” Inmon said. “It was obvious to the whole gym their game plan was to make Braxtyn beat us, and I told somebody that kid’s got a heart that wouldn’t fit in a dump truck and it showed tonight.”

DCA’s defense held West Jessamine to 25 percent shooting from the field.

Kim Johnson scored 22 points for the Lady Colts, but leading scorer Claire Marshall was held to 11.

“I’d say (the defense) was pretty good,” Heck said. “We knew that we’d have to stop (Marshall) because she’s a big part of their offense, and I think we did that.”

The Lady Warriors’ victory sparked a celebration among the school’s supporters on the court at Lincoln County that was a blend of astonishment, euphoria and thankfulness.

“It still hasn’t hit me, but I just want to give all the honor and glory to God,” Mbugua said. “It’s been a long way coming, and it’s just him laying everything out for us and his will being done and us trusting it.”

All-Tournament Team

Payton Acey, Southwestern; Amauri Blackford, Danville Christian; Madeline Butcher, Pulaski County; Cami Debord, Wayne County; Anna Drakeford, Mercer County; Braxtyn Heck, Danville Christian; Kim Johnson, West Jessamine; Taylor King, Rockcastle County; Claire Marshall, West Jessamine; Grace Mbugua, Danville Christian; Ariana McLoney, West Jessamine; Paisley Metz, Danville Christian; Kinsley Molden, Southwestern; Alayah Quisenberry, Danville; Talynne Shearer, Rockcastle County