This season, the city of Louisville has dominated Kentucky in high school basketball. Last week, I examined the successes of both Trinity and Fern Creek, the top two teams on the boys’ side in the state. As we transition to the girls’ side, the story remains the same – Derby City is making a statement.
If there was any question as to who has performed better – as a pair of the state’s top teams – between the boys of Fern Creek and Trinity or the girls of Butler and Male High School, I’m sure somewhere the Lady Bulldogs and the Bearettes would chant the resounding lyrics of the music mogul Beyoncé: “Who runs the world? Girls!”
Butler and Male are ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the state, but what’s been most impressive is the statement they’ve made across the United States. According to the USA Today Super 25 Expert Rankings, Male High School ranks No. 12 in the nation with an 18-1 record, and Butler ranks No. 16 at 20-1.
Both teams have played at a supreme level thus far, plowing through the competition as they look to establish their ground with some championship hardwood. Male has had high expectations this season. They’ve played with a vicious snarl, daring their competitors to upend them in their own doghouse. They’re 4-0 at home, but what’s most impressive is their ability to go to a neutral site or to someone else’s backyard and get a victory.
Whether they’ve played at Bullitt East, Florida, Tennessee, Mercy or Bellarmine for the girls’ LIT tourney, Male has shown up to play, going 13-1 in those locations. It bodes well for a team looking to go all the way because they’ve proven they can play with some of the best talent around the country.
Male came up short in their only loss of the season, losing to Paul VI, from Fairfax, Virginia. By the way, Paul VI is ranked No. 1 in the nation according to the USA Today Super 25 Expert Rankings. Perhaps their only loss is a good loss considering the level of competition.
Male’s hot season was sparked after they opened the year defeating defending state champs Butler, and state-ranked Bullitt East. These were teams Male had not beaten in several years, but once they got the monkey off their back, it heightened their confidence. They’re led by guards Emilia Sexton (13.5 points a game) and Ciaja Harbison (13.0 points a game), and the team as a whole has averaged around 73.0 points a game while giving up only 50.0 points to their opponents.
But what matters is how teams perform in the playoffs, and until the queens of basketball get upset in the playoffs, Butler still remains the team to beat. Maybe an opening season 68-62 loss to Male was sobering for the Bearrettes, who could have been fighting a championship hangover. But perhaps it was just the wake-up call Butler needed. They’ve won 20-straight games, including a merciless 81-point beat down of Iroquois earlier this month (83-2 final score).
They average 65.5 points per contest and shoot the ball well at 52.1 percent. On the defensive end, they’ve given up only 40.7 points.
Does Butler have a chip on their shoulder to prove they are still the team to beat, regardless of Male’s success? Or have they discovered a greater motivation for the season: winning back-to-back championships and winning three titles in four years – which would earn them the title of a dynasty?
I would say with the edge this Butler team plays with – led by the balanced scoring of Jaelynn Penn (15.5 points a game), Fontasia Jeffries (11.4 points a game) and Molly Lockhart (10.9 points a game) – both are reasons for the queens of the hardwood to play with a chip on their shoulder.
One thing’s for sure, both programs know how to stay hot in the winter season. It’s brewing for a great playoffs, so get your popcorn ready because it’s going to be a show. Sit back and enjoy these two programs’ race for the gold because only time will tell how the season concludes for two of the nation’s Top 25, the Lady Bulldogs and the Bearrettes. VT
Photo by Damon Atherton.