LEXINGTON, Ky. (WDRB) -- Bethlehem felt confident entering its second Sweet 16 in three years. It had won the second of back-to-back All-A state titles this season and competed with success against some of the top teams in the state.
They were good enough to outlast another of the pre-tournament favorites Thursday afternoon at Rupp Arena, edging Bullitt East, 70-65, giving the Banshees their first Sweet 16 victory in school history.
There were 12 lead changes, and six was the biggest margin throughout the game. That came briefly in the third quarter, but by the end of the quarter, Bullitt East had tied the game at 46 on a three from Lexi Starr.
It see-sawed a few more times early in the fourth quarter before Bethlehem took the lead for good at 55-54 on a jumper by Amelia Hodges. The Banshees started running a spread offense with a two-point lead and 2:30 remaining. They made 10-11 free throws in the closing minutes to help hold off Bullitt East.
"I kept telling the girls at the end of timeouts it was going to come down to who wanted it the most and who made the plays down the stretch," fourth-year Bethlehem head coach Jason Clark said. "And we're grateful that we made the plays when we had to."
"It was a great high school girls basketball game," Bullitt East coach Chris Stallings said. "And we just fell a little short. That's all you can say."
Senior Ella Thompson led the Banshees with 25 points and eight rebounds. Freshman Carlie Thurmond had 18 points and was 8-8 from the free throw line, and sophomore Emma Filiatreau added 11 points.
Bullitt East was led by junior Gracie Merkle, who amassed 27 points and 18 rebounds. Junior Emma Egan had 12 points and senior Selena Granado had 10.
"It's our last go-round, and we want to give it everything we got," Thompson said. "We don't want to end our high school careers and feel like we had unfinished business."
Next up for Bethlehem is a meeting with Marshall County, a 56-52 winner over Pikeville. That is 5 p.m. Friday.
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