(Cover photo: The Toppers pose with the winner’s trophy after downing Holy Cross 58-50 in the All “A” Classic Sixth Region final. Credit: Conor Revell)
By Conor Revell
A lot of gloom and doom faced Presentation’s basketball team when it trailed by 15 points early in the third quarter and a miraculous comeback didn’t appear to be in the cards.
But the visiting Toppers got hot from three-point range and stunned archrival Holy Cross 58-50 in Sunday’s All “A” Classic Sixth Region championship game.
“I thought we were done at that point because of the way we were struggling with shooting the basketball and we struggled to stop them,” Pres head coach David Jackson said. “But it turned around and our defense stepped up a little bit. We couldn’t stop their players from posting up, so we made an adjustment and sent a guard down there to help. And … hitting four threes in a row got us back into the game. That was huge.”
It’s the second straight All “A” regional title for the Toppers (12-10) and their third in school history. Holy Cross (9-10) has historically been the dominant power in the region, having won the region 18 times.
“It definitely made me nervous and I won’t lie that I wasn’t scared,” said Dara Jackson, Presentation’s only senior. “I told the team if we started to hit a few threes and we get a few points then we could get back in this game. We just had to keep pushing and not give up.”
The last time the Cougars failed to win the region two years in a row was when Holy Rosary won titles in 1998 and 1999.
For a long while Holy Cross appeared to be on its way to its 19th regional championship. Star Olivia Morabito had scored 18 points in the first 19 minutes of the game.
Brooke Blackwell and Morabito scored the first two buckets in the second half to put Pres in a 38-23 hole with 5:37 remaining in the third quarter. Morabito scored only one more time.
“I thought we took advantage of some opportunities for layups in transition,” Holy Cross head coach Chris Jefferson said. “We attacked the rim. Honestly, we hadn’t been shooting very well at home and in the first half we were knocking down some shots. That really helped us out.”
Holy Cross didn’t score another point in the quarter while the Toppers rang up 18 straight.
“I think in the first half we were nervous because we knew it was Holy Cross,” Presentation’s Lilly Stevenson said. “We were shaky and we were like, ‘Oh, it’s going to be really tough.’ In the second half we started to believe that we can come back and we knew that we could do it. We just had to let our nerves calm down.”
Courtney Jackson hit a jumper, Stevenson hit two straight three-pointers, and Dara Jackson made two straight threes and got a steal and layup to give the Toppers the lead. Julia Vogt capped the run with a mid-range jumper that gave Pres a 41-38 advantage heading into the final quarter.
“That was probably the ugliest three-pointer I have ever taken,” Dara Jackson said about one of her shots, which she banked in. “I was actually relieved it went in because I was not expecting to make that. It was a surprise and it got the crowd and the team back in the game.”
The teams traded the lead during the first half of the final quarter.
Morabito had a chance to complete a three-point play but missed her free throw, keeping the game tied at 48 with fewer than three minutes to go.
Vogt was fouled on the following possession and made two free throws to give the Toppers a 50-48 lead with 2:40 remaining. The Cougars never led again.
“I had to get it out of my head that I had just missed my last free throw,” Vogt said. “I had to calm down and hit those free throws. I knew that I could make those free throws and I knew that I had to make it because if I missed them it may affect the game.”
Dara Jackson sank a jumper before Beth Newton scored the final points for Holy Cross.
The Toppers sank 6 of 6 free throws to close out the game, with Vogt nailing four and Dara Jackson two.
Only four players scored for the Toppers. Dara Jackson led the way with 19 points and had three steals. Vogt added 16 points and three steals. Stevenson finished with 14 points and seven rebounds. Courtney Jackson recorded nine points and 12 rebounds.
“We had to make sure that we got in front of Brooke and Olivia,” Courtney Jackson said. “Once they get near the basket it can be so hard to get around and guard them. We had to do a really good job of helping each other to make sure they didn’t get around.”
Morabito led Holy Cross with 20 points. Blackwell added 11 and Newton had eight.
“I don’t think they necessarily took those kids out of the game,” Jefferson said of Blackwell and Morabito. “I think we look at those two for leadership and in that second half they may have went into a lull. We had a shot; we just couldn’t make a shot.
“I thought Brooke did a really good job defending her kid. I thought she made shots in the first half. In the second half I don’t think she was looking for her shot. Olivia does what she does, but she’s an emotional kid and she maybe got caught up into the emotions of the game and lost her focus for a few possessions.”
Pres moves on to the All “A” Classic State Tournament and will play Walton Verona in the first round at 5 p.m. Wednesday at the Frankfort Convention Center.
“It’s huge to win back-to-back titles,” David Jackson said. “Anytime the kids reach one of your season goals, it’s always a huge confidence booster. If you don’t reach your goal it kind of deflates the kids. For us, it was all about practice and our mental attitude. We had a great practice yesterday and the couple of days off might have helped us out.”