The end for Casey — but not really

There’s no shame in losing to a better team, especially if that loss comes on Saturday morning at the state tournament. Now it’s time to see what the next chapter in Casey County basketball brings.

Casey ended its most memorable season with a 52-43 loss to Iroquois — a team whose speed and aggressive defense were just too much for the Lady Rebels — on Saturday morning at the Girls Sweet Sixteen in Bowling Green. And while the defeat was a bitter pill for the Lady Rebels to swallow — as the final loss of the season always is — even before they left Diddle Arena they were beginning to form a better appreciation for what they had done.

Of course, they had plenty of help from their fan base, which turned out in force again for the semifinal session and remained loyal to the last. Casey’s fans roared as coach Randy Salyers and his players turned to applaud them just after the final buzzer, roared as the Lady Rebels received their semifinalist’s trophy and roared once more as they left the floor. And when the players emerged from the locker room, they found well over 100 of those fans — mostly family and friends — waiting in the hallway to offer a kind word or a hug.

Casey left its mark on the state tournament in that sense, with the kind of fan following that won’t be forgotten at the Sweet Sixteen for some time. But the state tournament also left its mark on Casey, because now its program is changed forever.

Now the history of Casey basketball includes not just another Sweet Sixteen team, but a team that raised the bar for those that will follow. The team’s three seniors and the other players who played the largest role in the Lady Rebels’ best season ever will always be remembered and revered, the girls who are next in line behind them will push themselves just a little harder now that they have seen what’s possible and younger girls who cheered from the seats this week will point to a picture on the wall and dedicate themselves to the game.

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As for the game, the telling numbers were 26, Casey’s turnover total, and 20, the number of points Iroquois scored off those turnovers.

Most of the other numbers didn’t look so bad for the Lady Rebels, who shot the ball well (16-for-33 from the field, 11-for-12 at the line), matched Iroquois in rebounds — although they were hurt badly by the Lady Raiders’ 14 offensive boards — and stayed within arm’s reach until midway through the fourth quarter.

Megan Pittman led Casey with 14 points and six rebounds, Kayla McFarland had 10 points, Lauren Hatter had nine points and three assists and Natalie Wesley had five rebounds. Adia Mathies had 22 points for Iroquois, including 16 in the second half.

(Click here to see the box score and play-by-play from Saturday’s game, and click here to see Casey players’ place among the tournament’s statistical leaders.)

Game coverage is already available at amnews.com, and there’ll be one more story Monday to wrap up the Lady Rebels’ week in Bowling Green and the season.

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The Lady Rebels used their bench heavily in their first two games, but only two reserves — Jasmine Johnson and Dezarae Harmon — saw action Saturday. Casey avoided serious foul trouble, and Salyers made sure there would be no foul trouble in the first half when he had McFarland hold the ball for almost all of the last 2:40 of the second period before playing for a final shot.

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Casey placed two players on the all-tournament team, McFarland and Pittman.

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The Lady Rebels’ fans will get the chance to cheer their team once more at a pep rally at 4 p.m. Sunday at the school gymnasium. Athletic director Victor Black said there are plans to recognize the team in other ways in the coming weeks, including at its postseason banquet.

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