By Les Dixon / Sports Editor
LEXINGTON — The Whitley County Lady Colonel seventh grade basketball team wrapped up a sensational season by finishing runner-up this past weeknd in the KBA State Middle School Tournament.
The Lady Colonels posted a 5-1 record during tournament play before falling in the state finals to unbeaten Mercer County, 39-29.
“The final score obviously says we didn't win a championship, but these girls are most certainly champions in every sense of the word,” head coach David Paul Estes said. “Champions care, champions fight and champions don't quit. I'm so proud of this team and our coaches. Bright days are ahead for Whitley County basketball."
“We wanted to win this weekend and we are disappointed,” he added. “Bitterly so. But we’re laying the foundation for their high school years, when we hope this group can raise some 13th Region championship banners in Lawson Gym.”
Whitley County was led by Abbey Estes, who averaged 14 points per game and three assists per game while connecting on 19-of-40 three-point attempts and 20-of-24 from the free-throw line, Madison Centers, averaged 7.8 points and 8 rebounds per game, Sierra Felter, averaged 5.7 points and 7.6 rebounds per game, Gracie Nichols and Hannah Clear.
“Abbey saved her best ball of the year for the tournament,” Estes said. “She drew the focus of the defense most games and performed exceptionally well. Maddy played great the entire tournament. She dominated the backboards. A lot of our perimeter makes were as the result of great fan outs by Madison. Her decision-making was great and her effort was off the charts.
“There can't be a more versatile player in the state than Sierra,” he added. “She can play the two through the four and did in the tournament. She took over in the North Laurel game on the backboards and pulled down 14 (rebounds). We asked Gracie to guard the other team’s best player most games. It was a tough assignment. You’re talking about the best middle school teams in the state. But she stepped up and was a real key to us advancing (and) Hannah might be the smallest player in size on our squad, but she has the heart of a giant. When Abbey got in foul trouble against North Laurel and had to sit for over a quarter, Hannah steadied the team and made sure we got to half time with the lead.”
Whitley County started the tournament off with a 49-8 pool play win over North Hardin, as Abbie Estes led the way with 16 points while Nichols (10), Clear (7), Feltner (6), Centers (6), Kaitlyn Lawson (2) and Carolann Schupinitz (1) followed.
“We just overwhelmed North Hardin with our defense,” Estes said. “They became frustrated early and couldn't recover.”
The second pool play game saw the Lady Colonels cruise with an easy 26-14 victory over Crosby with Centers scoring a game-high 13 points while Estes (5), Feltner (4), Clear (2) and Schupinitz (2) followed.
“Crosby was the Jefferson County Public League champion so we knew it would be difficult,” Estes said. “One thing about this team is we may have an off night offensively, but we are never off defensively. Our defense carried us in this game.
“We pounded them in the post,” he added. “We just kept screening their zone and getting good interior shots. When you're having trouble scoring it’s better to shoot three-footers than 23-footers.”
The Lady Colonels began tournament play with a 36-17 win over Powell County. Whitley County used a 15-2 run in the second quarter to pull away. Abbey Estes scored 14 points in the win while Centers (10), Feltner (8), Nichols (2) and Clear (2) followed.
“Coming off a tough game offensively, it was nice to see some shots fall,” Estes said. “This was a big win for us because it moved us on to Sunday to the Elite Eight.”
After a night’s rest, the Lady Colonels’ Elite Eight match-up was against a familiar foe — North Laurel. This was the third meeting between the two teams and the Lady Colonels managed to pull off a 31-21 win over the Lady Jaguars.
“I wasn't looking forward to playing North again,” Estes admitted. “I have great respect for their program. They’ve improved as much as anyone we’ve seen all year long and they played us to the limit. I was very thankful to get out of there with a victory.”
Both Abbey Estes and Feltner scored in doubles figures (10 points apiece) to lead the way while Centers scored seven points and Nichols added four.
Whitley County met up with Lewis County in the Final Four and handed them their second loss of the season with a 46-29 victory.
Abbey Estes had a big game in the win with an 18-point effort while Nichols (10), Centers (9), Clear (7) and Lawson (2) followed.
“What a win for our program. We felt good being up five at the half,” Estes said. “But I told our team to turn it up defensively and we held them just one made field goal in the second half. We did give them some foul shots as well, but fouling some is going to be a byproduct of playing as hard defensively as we do.
“Our legs were tired and I knew that we might struggle shooting, so I told our team to be more aggressive at trying to penetrate, and we ended up shooting 14-of-23 from the line,” he added.
Whitley County faced Mercer County (23-0) in the finals and stood toe-to-toe with the Lady Titans until Mercer County outscored the Lady Colonels 13-4 in the fourth quarter.
“It was the first time we've trailed after the first quarter all year, and that worked against us,” Estes said. “We got a bit frustrated and they were good enough to take advantage.
“There were some difficult match-ups for us on the defensive end,” he added. “We had great trouble guarding the Robins girl, who ended up being the MVP. We thought we could offset that by pounding it inside, but when Madison got in foul trouble we weren't able to. We went zone in the third quarter and then began rotating our presses and what we did in half court. I probably should have started that earlier. It bothered them a bit and helped us creep back into it.”
Estes scored 16 points for the Lady Colonels, who finished the season with a 34-1 record while Feltner (6), Nichols (5) and Centers (2) followed.