By Chris Chaney
The last time the Felicity-Franklin Lady Cardinals won a district championship, Kerry Stamper, the team’s head coach, wasn’t patrolling the sidelines, she was bringing the ball up the court as the point guard for the 1993-94 squad.
Now, Ashley Moore and Kelsey Arkenau have taken over Stamper’s role while she shouts instructions from the sideline and some 20 years later, Felicity finds themselves on the cusp of a state Elite Eight appearance.
“(The district title) definitely brings back that pride and winning feeling,” Stamper said after her Lady Cards beat Russia 52-48 in the district finals on Saturday, March 1 at Tippecanoe High School. “The community has supported us well throughout our tournament drive. It brings back some great memories for community members and I think our girls realize that they had it in them all the time and they can now say that they did their job, which was to bring the pride back to the program.”
The resolve of the Lady Cardinals was on full display in Tipp City on Saturday as an undersized Felicity-Franklin team used their defensive intensity and grit to outlast Russia.
Stamper said that while the Lady Cardinals were a bit wary of the Lady Raiders as warm-up all-stars, once the teams were on the floor facing off, that doubt evaporated.
“I think going into the game, once we saw the other team it was a little intimidating with their height, but once we stayed close throughout the first and second quarters, we found that we could compete with them and height didn’t seem to come into play,” Stamper said. “We stayed strong through the first half and gave us momentum going into the second half.”
Felicity did better than stick with Russia; they held a lead after the first quarter, 14-13, and were right there throughout the second quarter until a late Lady Raider surge capped off by a buzzer-beating 3-pointer gave Russia a 25-20 lead at the break.
Stamper’s halftime message was simple: do what you did to get here.
“We hustled, got a lot of steals, got a hand on a lot of passes and that’s what helped us pull it out in the end,” she said.
The Lady Cardinals defensive intensity ratcheted up a notch in the third quarter, holding Russia scoreless through nearly the first six minutes of the frame. Some of that defense even translated into offense as Felicity’s guards got into the passing lanes, deflecting and stealing the ball and converting in transition.
The Lady Cards in general and Moore in particular elevated their games down the stretch when it mattered most. Sparking the 13-5 third quarter run and helping to hold on down the stretch, Moore’s takeover was more internally driven than outwardly requested.
“It definitely just comes from the type of player she is,” Stamper said of Moore’s play. “She’s been frustrated with her outside shooting, but since that wasn’t falling for her, she took advantage of her ability to drive, doing that instead of depending on her outside shot.”
Moore led all scorers with 21 points, the majority of which came in the second half and from the free throw line with the game in the balance. Arkenau added 10 points and Paige Kessen had 8.
A familiar, but uncontested opponent awaits the Lady Cardinals in the regional semifinal round in Fayetteville-Perry. The Lady Cardinals’ Brown County neighbors are a perfect 25-0 on the season and have yet to be seriously tested in the postseason, winning their four tournament games by a combined 305-63.
“We’re probably not going to change a lot — what we’ve been doing has been working well for us,” Stamper said of Felicity’s prep. “Offensively, we’re going to have to be a little bit more consistent and get everyone involved to compete with their scoring power.
“Defensively, we’re pretty strong, but offensively, every body on the team’s going to have to step it up a little bit there.”
Something will have to give come game time. Fayetteville has only scored under 60 points five times all season while Felicity has given up 60 points exactly once and more than 50 just two more times.
“Every shot they take is going to have to be contested; we can’t leave them open at all,” Stamper said. “Hopefully we can step it up to knock down a few passes so that they won’t be as quick to make that pass later in the game. The more steals that we get, the more we can maybe get them rattled and we can throw them off their game.”
The final score of the regional semifinal, contested at 7 p.m. on Wednesday at Tippecanoe, was unavailable at the time this week’s edition of The Clermont Sun went to print. For scores and reaction, follow @ClerSunSports on Twitter.