Bullitt East has a strong tradition of girls basketball at the Mount Washington school. Playing in the Eighth Region and coached by Steve Small who later became head coach at Western Kentucky University.
Jerry Troutman also had coaching success. The Chargers won two Eighth Region titles. Becky McKinley earned Miss Basketball honors, has a street named after her.
Now in the Sixth Region the Lady Chargers won their second straight regional. Head coach Chris Stallings helped coach some of those early teams as an assistant.
Stallings has a team that will be a tough out in this years Girls State Tournament at Rupp Arena. A tough first round opener with Fifth Region champion Bethlehem (25-4) Thursday, at 2 p.m.
The Chargers are led by 6-foot-5 Gracie Merkle. The junior led the state in field goal percentage at over 75 percent.
Merkle has help in guards Emma Egan and Lexi Starr. Guards Jade and Jenna Meeks are a big part of the success.
“That’s our game (get it to Merkle),” said Egan. “We have confidence when we shoot that she can get the rebounds on her own. She’s a huge component to our team.”
Bullitt East (22-2) has a 14 game winning streak. “The last month has really been special,” said Stallings. “They’ve come together and really shared the ball. It’s just been fun to watch.”
Bullitt East has wins over Sacred Heart, Butler in the championship of the Louisville Invitational Tournament and the region finals. Mercy Academy twice, Mercer County and Franklin County.
“We’ve had close games and we’ve been fortunate to come out on top,” said Stallings. The Lady Chargers lost back to back games in mid February, Bardstown, 66-64 and Ryle 63-52.
“Our school takes a lot of pride in our community and our community takes pride in our teams,” said Stallings. The Bullitt East boys also won the Sixth Region.
Most of the excitement surrounding the Chargers revolves around Merkle. The junior center averages 17.9 points and 11 rebounds making 75 percent of her field goals attempts.
“Gracie has really come along,” said Stallings. “She has great hands and her foot work is pretty good. Our staff works hard with her and our post players every day.”
Egan, a junior wing player averages 12 points. She can score, shoot the three and distribute the ball.
“She had some good drives and passes to (inside) Merkle (against Butler),”said Stallings. Egan was a steadying influence against Butler. “We knew they’d go on hot streaks and go on a roll. We had to play our game and not let their highs get to us and take advantage of their lows. That’s what we did.”
Butler pressured Bullitt East most of the game. Egan said it never broke their spirit. “We talked before the game that we are just the stronger team. We know we have each other’s backs.”
Seniors Selena Granada, Regan Reid and Lilly Reid also play a lot.
The Bangees are led by Ella Thompson with averages of 17.6 points and 9.7 rebounds. Amelia Hodges 15.4, Xaviara Smalley and Carlie Thurmond add 10 points each.
Bethlehem has wins over regional champions Marshall County, Apollo, Bowling Green and Sacred Heart and a one point loss to Anderson County.
Bethlehem is a small Class A school (football) with 304 students in grades 9-12. It is a private Roman Catholic school in Bardstown that opened in 1819.
It is 60 miles from Lexington on the Bluegrass Parkway and this will be the Banshees second state appearance, 2019 the other. The Banshees are coached by Jason Clark.
The winner will play the winner between Pikeville and
Marshall County, Friday at 5 p.m.