Flyers in finals for first time in 36 years.

March 12, 2016 FieldsColumn

Franklin County's Rebecca Cooks heads down the court  against Mercer County. (Photo by Jim Osborn)

Franklin County’s Rebecca Cook heads down the court against Mercer County. (Photo by Jim Osborn)

HIGHLAND HEIGHTS — It took 36 years, but Franklin County has made it back to the state championship game in girls’ basketball.

The Flyers held on to beat Mercer County 55-51 in the semifinals of the St. Elizabeth HealthCare/KHSAA Sweet Sixteen Saturday night at BB&T Arena.

The victory puts Franklin County (31-4) in Sunday afternoon’s title game against Butler, which beat the Flyers 36-30 in the 1980 finals.

“What do you say?” We’re in a situation we all dream about,” Coach Joey Thacker said.

Franklin County, which lost to Mercer County 75-66 two months ago, led the Titans 46-35 early in the fourth quarter Saturday night. But then the Flyers went ice cold and didn’t score for more than 4 minutes. Mercer County took advantage with a 13-0 run to take a 48-46 lead.

Franklin County junior Rebecca Cooks said the scoring drought “was definitely frustrating, but we’ve been determined the whole week. I knew we’d all step up and come back.”

Sure enough, the Flyers answered with a 7-0 run to regain control and they held on for the program’s biggest win in almost four decades.

Princess Stewart, who suffered through 3-for-21 shooting in Franklin County’s wins over Shelby Valley and Campbell County, led the way against Mercer County. The 5-foot-8 junior guard had 17 points and 17 rebounds.

Dasia Kilbourne, a 5-9 senior, had 15 points and 6 rebounds. Cook added 10 points, including 4 crucial free throws down the stretch, and 15 rebounds. Senior Malaka Frank contributed 6 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals.

Thacker said his team’s shooting woes — “Lord knows we haven’t been able to hit a bull in the butt with a bass fiddle” — means “sometimes we’re not a portrait of perfection.”

But Franklin County is a balanced, talented, gritty team that proved itself when it survived Mercer County’s 13-0 run.

“Just a really good job by the kids gutting some stuff out when we weren’t making layups and free throws,” Thacker said.

Mercer County was led by Emma Davis’ 13 points (all in the first half). Lyric Houston had 12 points, 11 rebounds and 3 assists. Faith Lake had 10 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists.

Sophomore star Seygan Robins, who has a scholarship offer from UK, had a rough night. She was 3-for-12 shooting (0-for-6 on threes) and had 9 points before fouling out with 2:53 left.

Mercer County’s starting lineup is made up of four sophomores and junior, and Coach Chris Souder thought their youth showed itself somewhat Saturday night.

Usually a good three-point shooting team, the Titans were 5-for-20 against Franklin County. “That’s just part of basketball, just part of the game,” Souder said of their offensive struggles.

Souder said he told his players “to come out with their heads up because what they accomplished to get to this point as young as we are is phenomenal. We’ll go back to work soon and hope to be right back here next year.”