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Cooper’s impressive playoff run ends with 50-29 loss to Sacred Heart in girls state semifinal game

By Terry Boehmker
NKyTribune sports reporter

The formidable defending champions outplayed the surprising newcomers in the semifinals of the Mingua Beef Jerky/KHSAA “Sweet 16” girls state basketball tournament on Saturday at Rupp Arena in Lexington.

Louisville Sacred Heart (35-3) continued its bid for a second straight state title with a 50-29 win over a Cooper team that was making its debut in the state tournament. It was the 17th time this season that the top-ranked Valkyries held an opponent to 40 points or less.

Cooper sophomore guard Liz Freihofer draws defensive pressure from two Sacred Heart players under the basket. (Photo by Dale Dawn)

“We ran into a really good team with Sacred Heart,” said Cooper coach Justin Holthaus.

“They mixed it up in their half-court (defense) where they were switching everything, so it kind of got us out of our continuity in some of our offense. And again, with their length and their size, they’re tough to score against.”

Cooper (25-10) made more turnovers (14) than field goals (eight) against Sacred Heart’s aggressive defense. The Valkyries scored 38 points in the paint, including several breakaway baskets coming off turnovers.

The only double-figure scorer for the Jaguars was sophomore guard Liz Freihofer with 14 points. In her state tournament debut, she netted 43 points in three games, hitting 12 of 20 field goals and 18 of 19 free throws.

Cooper junior forward Whitney Lind’s three-game totals included 44 points and 15 rebounds. They were two of the four underclassmen in the starting lineup, so the Jaguars could be a state title contender once again next year.

“We’ve continued to talk about the process,” coach Holthaus said. “It’s a day-by-day process to get better, you know, things don’t happen overnight. I felt like the process for us has been speeded up over the last two years. It’s just the commitment level of our girls to our program, it’s been really special.”

Cooper sophomore guard Kay Freihofer battles with a Sacred Heart player for control of the ball. (Photo by Dale Dawn)

Sacred Heart took control of  Saturday’s semifinal game with a 20-4 scoring run in the first and second quarters that produced a 26-11 halftime lead.

In the second quarter, freshman forward Zakiyah Johnson scored eight of her game-high 21 points for the Valkyries with four field goals in the paint.

Sacred Heart led by as much as 19 points in the third quarter and 24 points in the fourth quarter. Cooper was limited to 18 points in the second half with Freihofer getting 10.

The Valkyries shot 51.2 percent (21 of 41) from the field with 25 rebounds. The Jaguars shot 21.1 percent (8 of 38) and had 22 rebounds with Lind and sophomore forward Logan Palmer both getting five.

There was only one 3-point goal in the game. Cooper was 1 of 14 from behind the arc and Sacred Heart missed all six of its long-range shots.

Cooper is the first 9th Region girls basketball team to make it to the semifinals in their first state tournament appearance. There were eight other local teams that reached the semifinals. Four of them advanced to the championship game and two won state titles — Holy Cross (2015) and Ryle (2019).

The only 9th Region boys team that won a state championship in its first “Sweet 16” appearance was Simon Kenton in 1981.

COOPER                 7    4   8  10 — 29
SACRED HEART  16  10  10 14 — 50

COOPER (25-10): Lind 1 6 8, L. Palmer 1 0 3, K. Freihofer 2 0 3, l. Freihofer 4 6 14. Totals: 8 12 29.

SACRED HEART (35-3): Bender 2 0 5, Gilvin 3 0 6, Wolff 2 0 4, Ralston 3 4 10, Johnson 9 3 21, Russell 1 0 2, Palayo 1 0 2. Totals: 218 50.

3-point goals: C — Palmer.

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