Reagan Bender spotted up near the top of the key. When the pass from her left came she never hesitated to shoot. It was Bender’s three point shot and three late free throws that helped Sacred Heart to a 54-51 win over previously unbeaten Central in the Seventh Region championship, Sunday at Valley.
Coach Donna Bender Moir played at Sacred Heart for the legendary Bunny Daugherty was a guard not afraid to shoot.
“She’s got the Bender last name,” said Moir of her niece. “I knew she had it in her. I’m just so proud of her. She’s been great to coach.”
Bender was two of 10 from the field including two of six from three. She might have struggled shooting from the field but made eight of 10 free throws and had six rebounds and an assist.
“I wasn’t hitting early,” said Bender. “I knew I had to make some shots. I just had the confidence to shoot. We needed to keep working, keep running. Stay composed.”
Composure was a key for Sacred Heart (21-7). Central had won 16 straight games and hadn’t lost since losing in last years regional to Christian Academy.
The Lady Yellowjackets wearing pink warmup shirts in honor of Ty Scroggins who passed away from the coronavirus, coached Central to five football titles.
Central led 31-24 in the third quarter. The Valkyries went on a run scored seven straight points to tie the game as Claire Russell’s layup with 2:21.
“Tonight just wasn’t our night,” said Central coach Deshawn Pendleton. “We just had a bad couple of looks that we didn’t get. It’s unfortunate we didn’t finish it out. I’m trying to stay positive.”
The Valkyries led 45-40 when Central scored five straight on two free throws by Wanda Stevenson and Dajah Armstong’s three with 3:47 to play. Taylor Price’s alley oop layup off a nifty pass from Amaya Asher gave the Jackets a one point lead.
Bender’s three tied later the game 51-51 and she hit one of two foul shots for the lead with 52 seconds. Bender made two foul shots with 4.1 remaining to lead 54-51.
Central missed three shots the last a three by Navaria Green with 0.2 left. Josie Gilvin rebounded and the game ended. Gilvin a junior added 13 points and 11 rebounds.
The Valkyries usually a run and gun team showed patience despite shooting 32.6 percent (14 of 48) from the floor.
The Lady Jackets couldn’t muster a lot of offense either shooting 17 of 45 for 38 percent from the field and 12 of 22 from the foul line. The smaller Central out rebounded SHA 37-29 but turned the ball over 15 times. SHA turned those mistakes into 21 points.
Wanda Stevenson led Central with 11 points and nine rebounds. Taylor Price, Amaya Asher, and Dejah Armstrong had nine each.
“After the second quarter I knew we had them,” said Bender. “I’m just a freshman. It’s kind of surreal we’re going back to Rupp.”
Sacred Heart under Moir won its eighth regional title will play the winner of the 14th Region in the state tournament.
“I didn’t like losing the last game in Rupp Arena last season,” said Moir whose team dropped a one point loss to South Laurel. “I counted it up and we had like eight points returning from last years team.”
At times Sunday, the Valkyries had two freshman playing. There weren’t many people who thought SHA could repeat this year. Manual was a slight favorite over Central.
“We had a great year,” said Pendleton. “It’s not the wins but the one loss that hurts the most.”