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Ray Justice Photography 10th year Belfry head coach Kevin Deskins barks out orders during the Lady Pirates 53-52 win over Johnson Central in the opening round of the 15th Region Tournament on Tuesday, March 3, 2020 at the Appalachian Wireless Arena.

PIKEVILLE, Ky. —For the first time since 2015 the Belfry Lady Pirates have advanced past the opening round of the Girls 15th Region Tournament as they outlasted the Johnson Central Lady Eagles by a final score of 53-52 at Appalachian Wireless Arena.

“This is a program builder, we needed this,” Belfry coach Kevin Deskins said after the win. “These girls work so hard. In year’s past we haven’t really been rewarded for that hard work. And I think this is just some reassurance to these girls that we are at that level.”

The Lady Pirates (16-14) were led by 15th Region Player of the Year Katie Ball as the senior center dominated the Lady Eagles by dropping 26 points and 17 rebounds to go along with five blocked shots.

Eighth-grader Kyera Thornsbury joined her in double figures as she scored 12 points on a perfect 5-5 shooting while also grabbing six rebounds, and dishing three assists.

The Lady Eagles (16-15) came out to start the game firing on all cylinders, as the duo of Kelci Blair and Sammi Sites combined to score 11 of the teams 15 points in the opening period, as JCHS led 15-10 after the first eight minutes of play.

The Lady Eagles cooled way down in the second quarter however as the Lady Pirate defense clamped down and held them to only three points in the period.

Ball notched six points and seven rebounds in the second quarter alone as she helped Belfry grab a 22-18 halftime lead.

Coming out to start the second half, Thornsbury scored back-to-back buckets to help the Lady Pirates take the largest lead of the game by either team at 26-18.

Belfry still held onto an eight point advantage at 37-29 with the time winding down in the third quarter but JC’s K.K. Vannoy drilled a long three at the buzzer to trim the BHS lead to 37-32.

Head coach Darrin Rice’s club never quit battling and fought all the way back to tie the game up at 42 apiece midway through the final quarter after another three by Vannoy, but sophomore Kyra Justice followed that with two of her six points for the Pirates to give them the lead back at 44-42.

After a bucket by Sites tied it back up at 44, Ball gave the red-and-white the lead for good as broke out a nice drop-step on the block and converted a three-point play the old-fashioned way to give VHS the 47-44 lead.

With the Lady Pirates leading by one at 51-50 with less than 20 seconds left, Ball grabbed an offensive rebound after a missed free-throw and put it back in to put her team up 53-50.

JCHS got a bucket from Faith Fairchield in the closing seconds but could not foul the Lady Pirates to extend the game, as BHS held on for the thrilling one point win.

“This is a huge win,a huge win,” Deskins said. “I can’t wait to see who wins this next game and to get them back in the gym...I’ve got to give a big thanks to the community. I just feel like this is that season...Sometimes if you make the right decisions, fate aligns for you. I’ve always felt like that. I just feel like as a team and the different decisions we’ve made is leading us down this right path. But we’ve got to finish it, it’s not over.”

The Lady Pirates out-rebounded the Lady Eagles as a team 36-20 and made 21-32 shot attempts for a blistering 65% shooting. JCHS only hit 20-55 shots for a 36 percent clip.

The win for Belfry sent them into the semifinal round on Friday night as they faced cross-county rival Pikeville (24-7) in an 8:15 p.m. tip at Appalachian Wireless Arena.

The two teams split during the regular season with the Lady Pirates winning 62-42 at home on Feb. 17 and Pikeville winning in their home gymnasium in overtime by a final of 62-58 on Feb. 6.

The winner of the semifinal match up advanced onto the 15th Region Girls’ Championship game which was set for Saturday at 5 p.m. The Lady Pirates are looking to advance to the 15th Region Championship game for the first time since 2010.

Jarrid McCormick is a reporter for the Williamson Daily News. He can be reached by email at jmccormick@HDMediaLLC.com.