By Eric Thorne
Male rode the dominant play inside by I’liyah Green as the senior poured in 20 points in leading Male into the semifinals of the girls Republic Bank/Coca-Cola Louisville Invitational Tournament at Bellarmine on Friday with a 59-45 win over Highlands.
The Cincinnati signee was too much inside and pulled down seven of the Lady Bulldogs’ 33 rebounds.
“I think the key for this team is all about chemistry because we are so close on and off the court that it keeps us playing calm and feeding off each other,“ Green said. “I was able to get the ball inside for some shots, and when I when I’m scoring and feeling it my teammates are good about getting it to me.”
Male (16-1) is one of the hottest teams in the state and has not lost since the opening game of the season when they lost to Butler. Their current streak is tied with Murray for the longest in the state.
Male coach Champ Ligon said Highlands reminded him of the Covington Holy Cross team they lost to in the state tournament last year by forcing them out of their run game and into a half court style.
“That can really frustrate a team like us when it slows down,” Ligon said, “but the girls kept their composure and that shows how far we’ve come. I’liyah just keeps getting better, and when our inside out game is working, and we use our depth we can wear a lot teams down. Then it’s a mess for most teams that play us.”
Bri Adler and Haley Coffee came out on fire hitting two shots apiece to put Highlands up 9-2. Male’s Kyra Hogan Green picked up her second foul with 3:20 in the first quarter and had to go to the bench. One minute later, Cameron Browning was also whistled for her second foul and had to leave the game.
Male scored seven unanswered points to finally tie the game at 9-9 on a foul shot by Green.
The Bluebirds (14-8) trailed 23-19 at intermission despite shooting just 21.4 percent for the half including just 1 of 12 from behind the three point line.
Highlands took better shots in the third quarter and showed more patience and was able to knot the game at 27 on a three by Lauren Epperson, and then moved ahead on a 10-footer by McKenzie Leigh.
Male regained the lead at 33-31 as Green continued to dominate inside on a pass from Sexton, who then broke free for two uncontested layups pushing the Lady Bulldogs back up by 37-31 with 1:16 left in the quarter. Male coaches were wanting to force it inside.
“We sensed they were getting a little fatigued and we wanted to push it inside and despite having four fouls Kyra Hogan came back from sitting a long time to give us a big lift,” Ligon said.
From there it was all Male who turned up the pressure defense and shutdown the Bluebirds.
Sexton was all over the court for Male forcing turnovers and nailing three pointers. The sophomore hit four threes on her way to tying Green for scoring honors with 20 points.
Highlands was led by Haley Coffey with 13 points while Adler chipped in 12.
Male will face Mercy in the second semifinal game at 11:30 a.m. at Christian Academy of Louisville. The two teams have not met yet this season.
“We faced them last year in the state tournament and then played them in the spring and over the summer. Both teams know each other and play very similar styles,” Ligon said. “At the level Mercy has been playing at its going to be a real dogfight.”