In the fourth quarter of March 10â€™s state final at W.K.U.â€™s E.A. Diddle Arena, the Manual High School girlsâ€™ basketball team swapped the lead six times with Marion County.
With a minute remaining, the Crimsons were clinging to a one-point edge.
Thatâ€™s when senior guard April Wilson took over.
In the final 60 ticks the Purdue signee scored six of her 23 points and lifted Manual over the Lady Knights 58-54 to clinch the Houchens Industries/KHSAA Sweet 16 title.
â€œI had nothing to lose,â€ said Wilson, who was named tournament MVP. â€œIt was my last high school game â€¦ and I finished it with confidence.â€
It was the programâ€™s first state title and Coach Stacy Pendleton said it felt â€œpretty surreal.â€
â€œItâ€™s just an amazing feeling to get it done,â€ said Pendleton. â€œEspecially for this senior group. They are all such great kids and really deserve success.â€
Manual (37-2) rolled through Perry County Central, Montgomery County and Lexington Dunbar â€” winning by an average margin of 21 points â€” on its way to the final.
Marion County (34-5) was led by junior guard Makayla Epps, a University of Louisville commit, who tossed in 23 points.
Manual senior guard LeAsia Wright also had a big night, with 21 points and six rebounds.
â€œLeAsiaâ€™s really the heart and soul of the team,â€ said Pendleton. â€œShe and April both put us on their backs. We needed them both and they were phenomenal.â€
Leading 52-51 with under a minute to play, Wilson drove to the basket and finished from the left side. After Marion County missed a 3-point attempt, Wilson was fouled and knocked down both free throws.
An Epps 3-pointer with 19.7 seconds left pulled the Lady Knights back within two at 56-54 before Wilson was fouled again with 9.3 seconds remaining. She rattled-in the first attempt. Then, following a Marion County timeout, Wilson drained the second to seal the win.
â€œThat was the biggest free throw of her career,â€ Pendleton said. â€œShe had a look of determination about her I really had never seen.â€
Although she is one of five finalists for Miss Basketball, Wilson had just one goal for this season.
â€œThis is what weâ€™ve always wanted,â€ she said. â€œI know Miss Basketball is out there, but I would choose a state championship over Miss Basketball any day.â€
Mr. and Miss Basketball
Joining Wilson as finalists for Miss Basketball are Jasmine Whitfield of South Oldham, Jeanna Crittenden (Ryle), Sydney Moss (Boone County) and Kendall Noble (Perry County Central).
Boysâ€™ finalists will be named this week and winners of both awards will be announced on April 28.
The Kentucky Association of Basketball Coaches announced its 2012 girlsâ€™ players and coaches of the year.
Here are the Louisville-area winners:
Coach of the Year – Mark Evans, Mercy
Player of the Year – Christine Roush, Mercy
Coach of the Year – Stacy Pendleton, Manual
Player of the Year – April Wilson, Manual
Coach of the Year – Frank Wright, South Oldham
Co-Players of the Year – Jasmine Whitfield, South Oldham and Rianna Gayheart, Owen Co.
Boysâ€™ Sweet 16
The 95th PNC/KHSAA Boysâ€™ Sweet 16 tipped off March 14 and runs through Saturday at Rupp Arena. The championship game is set for 8 p.m. Saturday.
The tournament features nine of the top 25 teams in The Lexington Herald-Leaderâ€™s Dave Cantrall Ratings, including No. 1 Trinity, No. 7 Bullitt East and No. 22 Oldham County.
Last year Christian County nipped Rowan County 65-63 in double overtime to take the crown.
There will be a new champion in 2012 after the Colonels fell to Madisonville-North Hopkins 70-56 in the Second Region semifinals.
McKay to Arkansas
Moore senior Mekale McKay, a standout in basketball and football, has signed a national letter-of-intent to play football at the University of Arkansas.
The 6-foot-6 wide receiver will join a Razorbacks team that went 11-2 last season and finished at No. 5 in the Associated Press poll after beating Kansas State 29-16 in the Cotton Bowl.
â€œWe are excited to add Mekale to what we feel like is a very fast and athletic class,â€ said coach Bobby Petrino in a release. â€œMekale is a big, strong receiver with great hands who has an extremely physical style of play.â€
Contact columnist Chris Cahill at email@example.com.