In the fourth quarter of March 10’s state final at W.K.U.’s E.A. Diddle Arena, the Manual High School girls’ basketball team swapped the lead six times with Marion County.
With a minute remaining, the Crimsons were clinging to a one-point edge.
That’s when senior guard April Wilson took over.
In the final 60 ticks the Purdue signee scored six of her 23 points and lifted Manual over the Lady Knights 58-54 to clinch the Houchens Industries/KHSAA Sweet 16 title.
“I had nothing to lose,” said Wilson, who was named tournament MVP. “It was my last high school game … and I finished it with confidence.”
It was the program’s first state title and Coach Stacy Pendleton said it felt “pretty surreal.”
“It’s just an amazing feeling to get it done,” said Pendleton. “Especially for this senior group. They are all such great kids and really deserve success.”
Manual (37-2) rolled through Perry County Central, Montgomery County and Lexington Dunbar — winning by an average margin of 21 points — on its way to the final.
Marion County (34-5) was led by junior guard Makayla Epps, a University of Louisville commit, who tossed in 23 points.
Manual senior guard LeAsia Wright also had a big night, with 21 points and six rebounds.
“LeAsia’s really the heart and soul of the team,” said Pendleton. “She and April both put us on their backs. We needed them both and they were phenomenal.”
Leading 52-51 with under a minute to play, Wilson drove to the basket and finished from the left side. After Marion County missed a 3-point attempt, Wilson was fouled and knocked down both free throws.
An Epps 3-pointer with 19.7 seconds left pulled the Lady Knights back within two at 56-54 before Wilson was fouled again with 9.3 seconds remaining. She rattled-in the first attempt. Then, following a Marion County timeout, Wilson drained the second to seal the win.
“That was the biggest free throw of her career,” Pendleton said. “She had a look of determination about her I really had never seen.”
Although she is one of five finalists for Miss Basketball, Wilson had just one goal for this season.
“This is what we’ve always wanted,” she said. “I know Miss Basketball is out there, but I would choose a state championship over Miss Basketball any day.”
Mr. and Miss Basketball
Joining Wilson as finalists for Miss Basketball are Jasmine Whitfield of South Oldham, Jeanna Crittenden (Ryle), Sydney Moss (Boone County) and Kendall Noble (Perry County Central).
Boys’ finalists will be named this week and winners of both awards will be announced on April 28.
The Kentucky Association of Basketball Coaches announced its 2012 girls’ players and coaches of the year.
Here are the Louisville-area winners:
Coach of the Year – Mark Evans, Mercy
Player of the Year – Christine Roush, Mercy
Coach of the Year – Stacy Pendleton, Manual
Player of the Year – April Wilson, Manual
Coach of the Year – Frank Wright, South Oldham
Co-Players of the Year – Jasmine Whitfield, South Oldham and Rianna Gayheart, Owen Co.
Boys’ Sweet 16
The 95th PNC/KHSAA Boys’ Sweet 16 tipped off March 14 and runs through Saturday at Rupp Arena. The championship game is set for 8 p.m. Saturday.
The tournament features nine of the top 25 teams in The Lexington Herald-Leader’s Dave Cantrall Ratings, including No. 1 Trinity, No. 7 Bullitt East and No. 22 Oldham County.
Last year Christian County nipped Rowan County 65-63 in double overtime to take the crown.
There will be a new champion in 2012 after the Colonels fell to Madisonville-North Hopkins 70-56 in the Second Region semifinals.
McKay to Arkansas
Moore senior Mekale McKay, a standout in basketball and football, has signed a national letter-of-intent to play football at the University of Arkansas.
The 6-foot-6 wide receiver will join a Razorbacks team that went 11-2 last season and finished at No. 5 in the Associated Press poll after beating Kansas State 29-16 in the Cotton Bowl.
“We are excited to add Mekale to what we feel like is a very fast and athletic class,” said coach Bobby Petrino in a release. “Mekale is a big, strong receiver with great hands who has an extremely physical style of play.”
Contact columnist Chris Cahill at email@example.com.