Caldwell County (16-13) senior forward Bella McConnell made sure that Monday night would not be the Lady Tigers last game of the season, or the last game of her illustrious high school career.
Scoring 12 points in the first half to spark offense, McConnell took the Lady Tigers on her back early on and carried them to another District 7 Championship game Monday night in Madisonville.
A 17-0 run proved the difference in a 47-36 District 7 semifinal win over Hopkins County Central in their third straight win over the Lady Storm this season.
Caldwell County punched their ticket into the Region 2 Tournament next week, and into Friday night's District 7 title game against Madisonville North Hopkins.
Off the heels of Senior Night in Princeton in a thrashing of Livingston Central a few nights prior, McConnell scored 13 of her game-high 20 points in the first half with 10 rebounds as she surpassed 800 career rebounds, while Majah Hollowell added 12 points and Jacey Jaggers put up all 11 points in the second half for the three Lady Tigers in double figures.
Karsyn Parker added a field goal and Lucy Goffinet and Paris Gray finished with one point apiece.
Briana Fritz was the only Hopkins County Central (9-18) player to get into double figures with 10.
"We had a game plan going in, we wanted to do a few things different," Lady Tiger coach Chuck Mitchell said.
"We watched a lot of game tape, we tried it, and I thought it worked really well the first half. We had them to ten points the first half, that's some good defense. They missed some layups, but free throw shooting was kind of an eye sore. So, you're not going to win many games like that. We were fortunate with our defense, blocking out, making us a few layups."
The Lady Storm got off to a 4-0 start in the first two minutes, but they wouldn't score again until the 4:27 mark of the second quarter as the Lady Tiger defense went to a different tactic.
McConnell matched the early deficit all on her own to tie it at 4-4 midway through one.
McConnell scored the first seven points of the contest for Caldwell, and gave the Lady Tigers their first lead on a straight away 3 with 90 seconds remaining in the quarter.
Free throws from Paris Gray upped the lead to 8-4 after one, doubling up Hopkins County Central after holding them scoreless for six straight minutes.
McConnell upped her point total to nine to open the second quarter on an elbow jumper, and Hollowell's and-1 and a cut at the rim kept Caldwell in control via a 17-0 run at 17-4.
McConnell kept the jets on with her second 3-pointer for 12 of the first 17 points of the night.
Fritz ended an 11 minute field goal drought for the Lady Storm, cutting into Caldwell's double digit lead a bit before Hollowell's seventh point of the evening gave Caldwell their largest lead yet at 12 on the way to a 20-10 halftime lead. Emile Jones beat the buzzer on a 3 to cut it to 10 at the break.
Free throws kept the Lady Tigers up by nine with McConnell on the bench late in the third quarter, but quick fouls on McDaniels gave Hopkins County free throw opportunities to keep within striking distance before an Emily Jones triple made it a five point game heading to the final eight minutes in a win or go home situation at 26-21 after three. The Lady Tigers scored just six points in the third quarter, but Jaggers saved her best for last, scoring nine of Caldwell County's 21 fourth quarter points to seal it.
Caldwell County survived 1-for-11 shooting in the third frame from the field, but Madison Griggs made it a four point game with six minutes to play.
McConnell came right back to keep the lead at two possessions muscling her way inside to continue her brilliant performance.
Clinging to a five point lead at 34-29 entering the final four minutes, Hollowell got to the free throw line to keep it at two possessions, and a McConnell steal found the hands of Jaggers on a dagger 3 to stretch the lead out more comfortably to nine with 2:10 remaining.
After leading by four to start the night, Hopkins County never got closer than within four in the final 26 minutes.
With their third win over Hopkins County Central this season, the Caldwell County Lady Tigers (16-13) have already punched their ticket into next weeks Region 2 Tournament in Christian County, but Mitchell and company have much bigger aspirations than just the hopes of a three-game winning streak this weekend.
Much, much bigger.
Caldwell County can win their first district title since 2017 under former coach Malissa Thomas, but what's waiting on the other side will not be quite so easily vanquished.
Now, the Lady Tigers have the task of taking down Madisonville North Hopkins for the 7th District crown in the house of the Lady Maroons on Thursday night against a team that has not lost in their district yet at 7-0 after their win over Dawson Springs in the Monday night tournament opener.
In fact, the top-10 ranked Lady Maroons (25-1) have won all their district games by at least 25 points, have lost only to Henderson County in mid January and have won nine straight games, with senior Courtney Peyton leading the charge at 18.7 ppg with her sister in Lindsey Peyton averaging 7 rebounds and 10 points per game.
Caldwell County''s only two meetings with the Lady Maroons this season came in lopsided losses. The Lady Tigers and Lady Maroons would face off on Thursday night at 7 p.m. in Madisonville for the District 7 title.