LEXINGTON -- When it comes to McCracken County Lady Mustang basketball, you never know which of their many stars is going to take control. Their plethora of double-digit scorers have taken turns leading their team to victories throughout the season. But, on Saturday afternoon it was junior Claire Johnson's turn.
Johnson led the Lady Mustangs to a 57-40 win over Henderson County in their semifinal matchup of the 2023 Mingua Beef Jerky Girls' Sweet 16 at Rupp Arena, controlling 25 points. She also added five rebounds, three steals and two assists to her stat sheet.
"I wasn't really going into the game wanting to score, I don't think any of our girls played selfish or were looking to play selfish," Johnson said. "We were just here to win it and it just happened to be in my hands today."
The junior guard controlled the first seven points of the game to give her Lady Mustangs the early 7-0 lead. McCracken held a 12-0 lead before Henderson Could put points on the board.
Johnson and company continued to a 26 points before the Lady Colonels could get in double-digits with 1:24 left in the first half. Of those 26 points, Johnson had 13.
McCracken County did what they do best, get their hands in the lane of perimeter passes and sprint to the basket for the finish. The Lady Mustangs forced 20 turnovers in the contest resulting in 26 points scored on the other end.
"Today you saw how we play," McCracken County head coach Scott Sivills said. "We play with tenacity. From yesterday to today I was so impressed with how our kids responded."
"I'm just so happy with how we started, they kept their focus the entire four quarters and we did what we had to do to rally together to get the victory."
At halftime McCracken County held a strong 26-12 lead and took off in the third. Destiny Thomas and Mikee Buchanan got into the scoring action in the third quarter, as the Lady Mustangs extended their lead to 28 and the 53 second mark of the quarter and a 44-16 score.
Henderson County came alive though in the final frame, holding McCracken County scoreless until the 4:38 mark and cut the score to 44-27. Caroline Sivills ended the Lady Colonels fun with a single free throw, the start of what would be a free throw only quarter for her team.
The Lady Colonels would get as close as 14 points midway through the fourth quarter, but the resiliency and hefty lead that the Lady Mustangs had built would seal the deal. Thirteen made free throws down the stretch from Johnson, Buchanan and Thomas would put the game away at 57-40.
"We've met our goal," Sivills said. "Our goal was to get here. And, from a full circle moment, we went to Sacred Heart to scrimmage back in November. I wanted them to have a little bit of a feel of what it could possibly be like to play them in Lexington, so we are back to a full circle moment tonight."
McCracken County will play Sacred Heart at 6 p.m. CT for the shot at the State Title to close out a historic year for McCracken County basketball.
McCracken County 13 13 18 13 - 57
Henderson County 3 9 6 22 - 40
MC: C. Johnson 25, D. Thomas 17, M. Buchanan 8, C. Sivills 4, B. Benton 3. 2-pt FG: 47.4%. 3-pt FG: 20%. FT: 82.6%.
HC: J. Thomas 17, M. Veal 8, G. Risley 7, S. Lacer 3, A. Green 3, A. Kemp 2. 2-pt FG: 41.2%. 3-pt FG: 25%. FT: 83.3%.
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