MOREHEAD – She was supposed to be the decoy.
Rowan County freshman guard Haven Ford wasn’t supposed to take the last shot Monday night against Russell. She overruled Lady Vikings coach Matt Stokes’ decision, a good thing because her buzzer-beating layup gave her team a 51-49 win in the semifinals of the Eastern Kentucky Conference Tournament at Warren H. Cooper Gymnasium.
“She actually told me no during a timeout,” Stokes said. “She said she wanted the ball, so when you’ve got a team captain – I know she’s just a freshman – and if she says wants that basketball, what do you do? You give her the ball; she’s the best player on the team, smartest player on the team.”
All Ford needed to see was the scoreboard – 49-49, with 8.8 seconds to go – when she took the inbounds pass from Hailey Rose.
“When I saw the game tied and it was coming down to the wire, I went over and said, ‘Let me have it,’” Ford said.
Russell coach Mandy Layne said Josie Adkins and Olivia Inskeep double-teamed Ford.
“She made a nice play at the end; kudos to Haven,” Layne said.
Nice as Ford’s 25 points were, she did a lot more than score: nine rebounds, two blocked shots, six steals and no turnovers.
The first quarter, Rowan County (1-1) was equatorial-hot, and not only because the Lady Vikings took a 14-6 lead. The defense handcuffed the Lady Devils – not a point over the final 5:33.
And the second stanza? Russell (2-2) turned tropical, while Rowan County became somewhat antarctic – a 13-3 Lady Devil streak put Russell ahead, 19-17.
Ford was largely responsible for Rowan County leading, 20-19, at intermission. She scored 11 points, grabbed five rebounds, blocked two shots and pilfered three Russell passes.
Russell led, 42-33, with 6:56 to go in the game on Bailey Quinn’s field goal.
“We slowed down a little bit,” Stokes said.
The Lady Devils’ greatest fear – foul trouble – became a fourth-quarter fact when leading scorer Kaeli Ross (14 points), Shaelyn Steele and Malia Blevins (both had 12 points) all went out.
Ford knocked down a free throw with 18.4 seconds left. Campbell Jachimczuk’s freebie tied the game.
Stokes thought Ford would be double-teamed, and he wanted someone else to break to the middle of the court and then attack.
“When she gets it in her head, you really don’t have anything to worry about,” Stokes said. “She’s gonna make the right play.”
Rowan County meets East Carter (a 44-38 winner over Morgan County) for the title at 6 p.m. Thursday.
RUSSELL 6 6 13 20 10 — 49 ROWAN CO. 14 6 13 18 — 51
Russell (49) — Steele 12, Quinn 5, Ross 14, Blevins 12, Ruggles 2, Jachimczuk 4. 3-Pt. FG: 6 (Blevins 2, Steele, Quinn, Ross, Jachimczuk). FT:14-23. Fouls: 20.
Rowan Co. (51) — Rogers 5, Ricer 6, Rose 5, Blevins 6, Ford 25, Haynes 2, Melton 2. 3-Pt. FG: 3 (Ford 2, Rose). FT: 14-23. Fouls: 15.