FRANKLIN – The Warren East girls’ basketball team earned its first bid to a state tournament in 22 years with a 48-38 win over Warren Central in the Kentucky 2A, Section 2 championship Saturday at Franklin-Simpson High School.

Warren East (9-3) used a closing kick to offset a second-half surge by the Lady Dragons, advancing to the Kentucky 2A state tournament in Owensboro. It will be the first state tournament berth the Lady Raiders have earned since a trip to the Girls’ Sweet Sixteen in 1998.

“It’s huge for this program,” Warren East coach Jenny Neville said. “These girls, they deserve it. They’ve worked hard the last few years and have gotten better and better each year. This year they are putting it all together. It is great for their confidence.”

Warren East cruised to a 24-point victory over Warren Central two nights ago, but Saturday’s rematch wasn’t decided until the final minutes.

Both teams struggled to find their stride in the first quarter, but Warren East was able to parlay a 5-0 start into a 9-4 lead heading into the second quarter.

The Lady Raiders scored six straight to open the second to push the margin to 15-4. The advantage grew to as many as 12 before a La Auhnni Lewis 3-pointer trimmed the deficit to 25-16 at halftime.

Warren East’s lead grew to 30-18 after a Caroline Forrester free throw before the Lady Dragons scored seven straight to shave the margin to five late in the third.

Lewis opened the fourth quarter with a 3 that made the score 32-30 Warren East. Kyleigh Ray’s 3 tied the score 33-all and WCHS had five straight possessions with a chance to take the lead, finally breaking through on the sixth possession that ended with a Lewis layup and a 35-34 Lady Dragons advantage with 3:22 remaining.

Olivia Price split a pair of free throws to tie the score, but two Ray free throws gave the Lady Dragons a 37-35 advantage with 2:59 left.

Warren Central’s offense would scuffle from there. Krisheana Johnson picked up her fourth and fifth fouls on back-to-back possessions, with Lucy Patterson hitting all four free throws to put Warren East back in front.

Warren East continued to extend the lead, hitting 11-for-14 from the free-throw line during an 11-0 run that made the score 46-37 with 22 seconds left.

Lewis split a pair of free throws to stop the run, but Patterson drained two with 12.4 seconds remaining to seal the victory.

“Anytime you play a team back-to-back, it gets harder,” Neville said. “The more you play a team, the more you learn about them. I knew it would be tough. Central’s quick. They play really good defense and they changed their defense up tonight. They went to man and we went to our man offense and we struggled.

“On the other end, we played really good defense. Our defense is what kept us in the ballgame and then in the fourth quarter we finally started getting to the basket and getting some fouls and free throws.”

Patterson, who scored 20 points and had 15 rebounds in Thursday’s win, had another big night Saturday – finishing with 22 points and 12 boards.

“It feels amazing now that we know we have done it in two sports,” said Patterson, also a member of the Warren East softball team. “Everybody knows softball … but now basketball, we have turned this program around. It feels good to have all these people behind us. Everybody is excited we are going to state.”

Lewis led Warren Central with 11 points.

“I’m proud of the way the girls hung in there,” Warren Central coach Joe Hood said. “We weren’t even in the game Thursday and then tonight we dictated the pace of the game in my opinion from start to finish. Lucy Patterson was still the difference.”

Warren East will face Belfry in the 2A state tournament in Owensboro at 1:30 p.m. Thursday, with a tuneup at 6 p.m. Tuesday – when the Lady Raiders host Barren County.

Warren Central is scheduled to face Bowling Green at 6 p.m. Friday.

WCHS 4 12 11 11 – 38

WEHS 9 16 7 16 – 48

WC – Lewis 11, Robinson 8, Ray 6, Leach 6, Johnson 4, Simmons 3.

WE – Patterson 22, Forrester 9, Sparks 8, Price 5, Bailey 3, Hymer 1.{&end}

– Follow prep sports reporter Micheal Compton on Twitter @mcompton428 or visit bgdailynews.com.

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