LEXINGTON — The Apollo E-Gals simply couldn’t keep up with Henderson County on Thursday.
The Lady Colonels, a well-disciplined, well-oiled roundball machine, rolled to a wire-to-wire 55-31 victory in the opening round of the 2021 Girls’ KHSAA State Basketball Tournament at Rupp Arena.
Apollo — making its first Sweet 16 appearance in 24 years — wrapped up its season at 16-7.
“Henderson County is a very talented, very patient team,” Apollo coach Natalie Payne said. “They’re very difficult to defend because they’re so strong inside and they also have great guard play.
“We didn’t capitalize on their mistakes like we needed to. They make so few mistakes, and you’ve got to take advantage of it when they make one.”
Trailing by nine at halftime, Apollo fell behind 30-17 after a pair of baskets by Jarie Thomas in the first 90 seconds of the third period. The Lady Colonels eventually built their lead to 15 points in the stanza before settling for a 36-23 lead entering the final eight minutes.
The E-Gals twice sliced their deficit to 10 points on 3-pointers by Amber Dunn and Kassidy Daugherty, but Henderson County answered the challenge by scoring 16 of the game’s final 18 points over the final 3:49 to win going away
“I was very impressed with my team as a whole,” longtime Henderson County coach Jeff Haile said. “We got off to a fast start and that’s important up here. We were able to turn them over a little, our halfcourt defense was very solid, and we really did a good job on rebounding the ball.
“Our two guards (Sadie Wurth and Kaytlan Kemp) were outstanding — I can’t say enough for how well they played.”
Henderson County was well in command for most of the first half.
Kemp drained a 16-footer to ignite a 14-4 run that left the Lady Colonels with a 16-6 lead following Grace Risley’s 3-pointer at 2:44 of the first quarter.
Apollo pulled within six after a bucket by Dunn and two free throws by Amaya Curry, but Henderson County got a putback by Thomas just before the horn to make it 18-10 at the first break.
A 15-footer by Kyra Dixon stretched the lead to 20-10, before the E-Gals had their best stretch of the half.
Shelbie Beatty converted a conventional three-point play, Curry scored on a runner off the left baseline, and Beatty made a driving layup to draw Apollo within 20-17 at 4:05 — prompting a Henderson County timeout.
The Lady Colonels regrouped, however, getting 3s from Wurth and reserve Savannah Lacer to take a 26-17 advantage at intermission.
Henderson County (19-4) was led by Thomas, who scored 17 points, and Wurth who produced 13 points and five assists. Dixon grabbed seven rebounds.
The Lady Colonels were 22-of-46 from the field (48%), made 5-of-13 shots from 3-point range (39%), sank 6-of-8 free throws (75%), and outrebounded the E-Gals by a 30-18 margin.
HCHS led in points off turnovers (22-12), second-chance points (11-2) and bench points (13-0). Even more impressive, the Lady Colonels had 19 assists on 22 made field goals.
Apollo featured only one double-digit scorer, Beatty, who produced 11 points. Curry and Zoe Floyd each secured a team-best four rebounds.
The E-Gals went 12-of-36 from the field (33%), hit 2-of-10 shots from distance (20%), made 5-of-7 foul shots (71%), and committed 15 turnovers.
Despite the loss, Payne pointed to a change for her resurgent Apollo program, which had been away from the state tournament stage for nearly a quarter-century.
“We finally found our identity,” Payne said. “These memories we made and this run we made are things we will remember forever.”
APOLLO10-7-6-8 — 31
HENDERSON COUNTY18-8-10-19 — 55
Apollo (31) — Beatty 11, Curry 8, Dunn 7, Daugherty 3, Floyd 2.
Henderson County (55) — Thomas 17, Wurth 13, Kemp 8, Dixon 4, Risley 4, Lacer 3, Mullins 2, Rideout 2, Sprinkles 2.