Sara Thornton came like a thief in broad daylight. Six times she timed her move at the top of the zone defense and six times she stole the ball.
All in the fourth quarter.
Thornton also scored 10 points in the fourth to spark Kenton Ridge to a 66-53 victory over Carroll on Saturday in a sectional final and send the Cougars to the district tournament for the fifth straight year.
The Cougars will face Cincinnati McNicholas at 7 p.m. Friday at Mason High School in a district final.
The top-seeded Cougars (24-1) played zone in the second half to close driving lanes and stop fourth-seeded Carroll’s 6-footers. And the Patriots’ young guards weren’t ready for Thornton’s senior smarts in the fourth when her steals helped build a double-digit lead.
“They were just getting sloppy out front and I was like, ‘I’m going to cheat a little bit and steal the ball and go,’” Thornton said. “I just wanted to end it. I didn’t want it to be close. I wanted to prove that we outright deserved to go to districts.”
The Cougars’ only other senior, point guard Stefanie Davis, took a hustle cue from Thornton after missing a layup. She dove from behind to knock the ball loose from the Carroll rebounder before an outlet pass could be thrown. Davis recovered the ball on the floor and passed it to Thornton for a layup for a 54-47 lead with 3:14 left.
“That was a big ‘let’s go, let’s go,’ ” Thornton said.
Then Thornton made steals on three straight Carroll possessions, including one she took in for a layup, and the Cougars led 58-47 with 1:33 left.
“She just did that on her own,” Cougars coach Ed Foulk said of Thornton extending into passing lanes. “She brings senior leadership, and she brings us the hustle out there.”
The Cougars also got the balanced scoring they want. Bates had 18, Davis and Baylee Bennett 16 and Thornton 12.
Playing man-to-man in the first half, the Cougars watched Carroll go on runs of 13-2 and 12-2. Those offset a 14-1 run by the Cougars, and Carroll led 32-28 at the half. But the Patriots, who are used to going to regionals and younger than usual, struggled with KR’s zone in the second half.
“The zone affected us a lot, but the foul trouble probably hurt us more,” said Carroll coach Rob Berry. “We lost our inside presence and they were able to double-team (Schroeder). We hit a few threes, but not enough to keep us in the game.”
The Patriots (17-8) started seniors Madison Schroeder and Stephanie Townsend, both 6-foot-1. But Townsend, coming off a 22-point game, played less than a half because of foul trouble and scored four points. Schroeder scored 14 points and got McDavid in foul trouble.
“We should be having four senior starters and a junior, but we’ve had a lot of injuries and two starters who didn’t even get to play this season,” Berry said. “It’s tough not to win the sectional.”