A Night to Remember
The 1972 Pittsburgh Steelers have “The Immaculate Reception.”
The 1954 World Series had Willie Mays and “The Catch.”
For John Elway and the 1987 Denver Broncos, it was “The Drive” against Cleveland during the AFC championship game.
Bobby Thompson perhaps lays claim to the greatest play in sports history, with his “Shot Heard ‘Round The World” –a World Series winning home run from 1951.
These dates, these individuals, these teams, and these scenes are forever etched into the minds of sports fans across the globe. In the annals of memorable sports moments, they serve as a sort of Table of Contents.
For the Bracken County Lady Bears basketball program, the night of January 16, 2010 will forever be one of those moments. With the 10th region All “A” championship on the line, the host Lady Bears went to battle with arch-rival St. Patrick, and the outcome was one for the ages.
Bracken County entered the All “A” title game hoping to repeat the performance of its 1991 predecessor. The ’91 team—perhaps the most talented in school history—won the 10th Region Class “A” tournament, en route to a third place finish statewide. Of course, the 2010 Lady Bears were but a glimmer in their parents’ eyes in 1991. Still, the tradition was there and Patrick Kelsch’s Lady Bears were hungry for a title.
Maysville St. Patrick, led by savvy coach Elaine Douglas, were also hungry for a championship. Extremely talented, the Lady Saints played with aggression, speed, and pressure defense. Ranked among the 10th region’s top teams, St. Patrick entered the tournament as the odds-on favorite. And truth be told, very few people outside of the Bracken County locker room, gave the Lady Bears a snowball’s chance.
For starters, the Lady Saints entered the championship game with just one loss compared to twelve victories—two of those wins coming against Kelsch’s Lady Bears. On December 10th in Maysville, St. Patrick held off a late Bracken County charge to win 58-51. Just under three weeks later, the Lady Saints had obliterated Bracken County in the finals of the Villa Madonna Christmas tournament by a whopping 32 points (70-38). All told, the Lady Saints boasted a five-game winning streak against Bracken County, spanning two seasons.
Thus, the prevailing thought was that St. Patrick would take the title.
Bracken County had other plans, as evidenced by the way it started the game, scoring the game’s first four points and ultimately holding a 16-12 lead at the end of the first quarter.
From a simple psychological perspective, the good start was just what the doctor ordered for Kelsch’s squad. “The last four times we’ve played St. Pat, they jumped on us early to a point that we couldn’t battle all the way back,” the head coach stated.
However, the Lady Saints mounted a charge of their own in the second quarter, despite senior center Anna Klee on the bench, saddled with three fouls. What should have been the Lady Saints’ loss ended up being their gain, as Doulgas’s team went on a 12-2 run, taking a 27-22 lead with just seconds to play in the half.
But the all-important momentum went to the locker room with the Lady Bears, thanks to a clutch three-pointer at the buzzer, courtesy the sweet long-range stroke of senior point guard Katelyn Meyer.
“One of the biggest plays in the game for us,” Kelsch said of the shot, which cut the Lady Saints deficit to just two points, 27-25.
St. Patrick struck first to start the third quarter, extending its lead to 29-25. But Bracken answered back with consecutive three-pointers—the first by Meyer and the second by fellow senior guard Brittany Burden, giving the Lady Bears a lead it would not relinquish, at 31-29. Bracken ended up outscoring St. Patrick 17-8 in the 3rd quarter, with Meyer and Burden combining for 12 of the 17 points.
Despite trailing by seven points entering the final frame, St. Patrick charged back. A 7-2 run, capped by senior guard Ciera Payne’s basket, cut the deficit to two points at 44-42, and sent a buzz throughout an already lively crowd.
Calmly, Bracken County answered again, but this time by pounding the ball inside to its two best athletes: All-Region center Hannah Haight and sophomore standout Sara Sticklen. Haight and Sticklen both answered the call with buckets, thus extending the Lady Bears lead to 48-42.
Then, with just 1:38 remaining, Burden rebounded her own team’s missed free throw and canned her second long-range bomb, giving Bracken County its biggest lead at 51-42. The Bracken County faithful roared with approval, thinking the shot was the final nail in the proverbial coffin.
Kelsch, however, knew better. “St. Pat is one of the most resilient teams in this region. You can’t count them out until the final horn sounds.”
Kelsch’s words proved true, as the Lady Saints would score the game’s next eight points. A revved up defense forced several Bracken miscues in the game’s final 90 seconds. Forwards Brooke Mosler and Charisma Payne scored baskets, and Klee connected twice from the free-throw line, making the score 51-48 with just under twenty seconds left.
After another steal, Mosler was fouled and missed both free-throws. But the junior forward secured her own rebound and scored to cut the lead to a solitary point at 51-50 and just 6.8 seconds showing on the clock.
On the ensuing inbounds pass, Meyer was fouled immediately, and thus sent to the free throw line for two shots. The senior point guard had played the entire game, facing a daunting St. Patrick press, and had Jell-O for legs. It showed on the first free throw, as the shot drew nothing but air. Nervous, perhaps?
“I was just as nervous as I was tired,” the senior guard said afterward.
Stepping away from the line, receiving encouragement from her teammates, Meyer toed the line for the second shot and calmly drilled it, giving Bracken County a 52-50 lead.
Chelsea Douglas, a star sophomore for St. Patrick (and daughter of the head coach) grabbed the inbounds pass, raced to the other end of the floor, but her 17-footer from the right wing bounced off the rim. Bracken County guard Jaclyn Crawford pulled down the rebound and the horn sounded, giving the Lady Bears its sweetest victory of the season: a 52-50 win over St. Patrick.
“A dream come true,” Kelsch stated immediately after the game, while watching his team cut down the nets. “This was one of our goals at the beginning of the season, but not very many people gave us a chance to accomplish it. And to be honest, we never really gave them any reason to think otherwise. But I’m so proud of these girls. They worked hard and earned this. Every player I put on the floor contributed to this victory, and I’m not saying that just to say it. It’s the absolute truth.”
As usual, Bracken County was led in scoring by the 6’1” Hannah Haight, who netted 15 points, while pulling down 7 rebounds. The senior center did much of her damage at the free throw line, where she shot a sizzling 9-10. Meyer and Burden chipped in 11 and 10 points respectively. For their tournament efforts, each of the three were named to the All-Tournament team.
The Lady Bears victory earned them a spot in the Class “A” State tournament held on the campus of Eastern Kentucky University. Eleven days following the regional win over St. Patrick, Kelsch’s Lady Bears lost a hard-fought 59-57 battle to the 3rd region champion Owensboro Catholic, led by one of the state’s premier players in freshman Becca Greenwell.
The disappointing state loss did not diminish the accomplishment from the region, however. Looking back on that exhilarating night in January, Kelsch says he still gets cold chills. “It’s something I’ll never forget, and these girls won’t either. We had seven seniors who had played together for years. We had a couple of younger girls who learned a lot and contributed a great deal. It was everything I could hope for as a coach. I’m glad I was able to be a part of it.”
While local media gave the Lady Bears much-deserved attention, their accomplishment did not garner significant acclaim statewide, and certainly not nationwide. Still, the 2009-10 Bracken County Lady Bears added a significant chapter to its program.
But it also did much more than that.
It raised the bar of success. It placed a challenge in front of future teams, giving them a realistic goal for which to strive. It provided inspiration and excitement for a community who loves its hoops. It gave a school something on which to hang its hat.
It gave a young coach a dream fulfilled. It gave seven seniors the thrill of accomplishment. It gave parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles something to brag about—something to cut out of the newspaper and hang on the wall or place in a scrapbook.
It gave passion. It gave thrills. It gave jubilation. It gave joy. It gave trophies. It gave awards. It gave a banner.
More than anything, though…
It gave a night to remember.