Bethlehem entered Saturday’s 19th District championship missing their point guard to injury, and facing the prospect of dealing with Bardstown’s fierce full-court press, having already lost to the Tigers in the regular season.
But instead of an expected third straight title game thriller between the rivals, the Banshees delivered a dominating performance all around, blasting the Tigers 58-39 to cruise to Bethlehem’s third straight district championship.
Behind Xavi Smalley’s triple-double and an MVP outing by Miss Basketball finalist Ella Thompson, Bethlehem didn’t miss a beat despite the absence of senior point guard Amelia Hodges, who suffered a neck injury in Thursday’s district semifinals.
On the back end of the Banshees’ packed-in zone defense, Smalley, a sophomore, cleaned up. She came up with 11 points, 20 rebounds and 10 blocked shots — and altered numerous others — and even pitched in five steals to boot.
Bethlehem’s defense didn’t allow Bardstown to breathe all game, holding the Tigers to an anemic 12-for-61 (19.7%) from the field, including 4-of-22 on three-pointers. Smalley also keyed the Banshees’ dominant effort on the glass, a 43-20 advantage.
With Hodges unavailable, Thompson — a power forward by trade — showed her versatility by handling point guard duties for extended stretches, helping the Banshees see over the top of the vaunted Tiger press, and preventing Bardstown from turning defense into offense on the other end.
The game started slowly for both teams, as they stood tied at 6-6 midway through the first quarter. The Tigers pushed ahead 11-6 late in the first, with MaTija Yocum feeding Jaileyah Cotton for a bucket, then Cotton found Addison Riley for a three.
Bardstown (19-6) still led 13-10 after a steal and a layup by Yocum a little more than a minute into the second, and that’s when Bethlehem (22-4) took over the game.
Smalley scored four points and Thompson hit a three, sparking what eventually became an 11-0 run, capped off by jumpers by Kasey Spalding and Carlie Thurmond. The Tigers woke up from a nearly six-minute scoreless funk when Yocum fed Riley for a 15-footer a minute before halftime, but the Banshees kept charging, with Spalding’s long two-pointer with two seconds left making it 26-18.
Bethlehem wasn’t done yet, either, opening the second half with a 9-0 run over the first four minutes, with Thompson’s three-point play and a free throw by Thurmond stretching the lead out to 35-18.
With Smalley and Emma Filiatreau patrolling the inside and the Banshees playing standout team defense, Bardstown never seriously threatened again. A free throw by Cotton with 2:23 left in the third cut the Banshees’ lead to 13 at 36-23, but an 8-0 Bethlehem run in response effectively slammed the door on any comeback hopes the Tigers might have.
Cotton’s 11 points and six rebounds led Bardstown. Thurmond came up with 13 points, three assists and two steals, while Thompson tallied 15 points, seven rebounds, three assists and three steals. Filiatreau had nine points, six boards and two blocked shots.
Both teams advance to next week’s 5th Region tournament, also hosted by Nelson County. Draws were Sunday morning — go to kystandard.com for results. Bethlehem is looking to get to the region finals for a third straight season after winning it all two years ago. Bardstown last made it to the region championship game in 2018.